In 1996 Tony Sutorius got his hands on a new digital video camera, days before the start of an election campaign in Wellington Central. Made on the proverbial shoestring, this feature-length documentary chronicles five of those battling for the crown as a new political age — MMP — dawns. Richard Prebble joins a new party called Act, the National candidate joins United New Zealand… and one of the five will be sacrificed by their own party. Sutorius sat through 55 hours of footage to forge the result, which won enthused, sellout audiences at the 1999 NZ Film Festival.
In the 2000s mockumentary realism (led by The Office) was making its mark in television comedy. Series The Pretender gave Kiwi politics the embedded camera treatment, with expat comedian Bob Maclaren playing overconfident property developer-turned-MP Dennis Plant. The first episode of the second series sees Plant cause political chaos, with the launch of his Future New Zealand party. This season was nominated for three Qantas TV awards in 2009, including best comedy. The show was created by Peter Cox (Insider’s Guide to Happiness) and Great Southern TV’s Philip Smith.
In one of NZ politics’ more notorious episodes, PM Rob Muldoon, his slim majority in tatters, calls a snap election. Party president Sue Wood is beside him but he has already ignored her advice that the party isn’t ready for the polls. It was widely suggested that Muldoon was drunk (and reporter Rob Neale can’t resist a “high spirits” jibe) — or perhaps he believed his own invincibility — but it was the beginning of the end for an era he had dominated. The limousine looks quaint, but the National Party’s Macintosh is a pointer to the electioneering of the future.