New Zealand’s participation in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance is the subject of Errol Wright and Abi King-Jones’s new documentary The 5th Eye, which makes its world premiere at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Paul Berrington asked them a few questions ahead of the screening.
This is an important issue that often seems to be swept under the carpet by local media, and disavowed by members of parliament. With that in mind, what were the challenges you faced in collecting enough fact and opinion to map out a feature length documentary?
We actually had huge amounts of material to work through due to the scope of the film and the events that have taken place in the past few years around revelations of spying both in New Zealand and around the world. But – yes, a lot of the media interviews we used of politicians responding to questions around surveillance were of a “No comment / can’t comment” nature. The saving grace is that we have whistleblowers and investigative journalists that are able impart the truth to the public. In this country we also have access to great, well-informed minds – including our very own world-reknown, intelligence expert Nicky Hager.
How important are whistle-blowers in contemporary society? Considering such factors as media convergence and the suppression of rights during the War on Terror, arguably make access to objective journalism increasingly difficult?
With the rife overclassification of ‘Top Secret’ government documents and the entrenched culture of secrecy within the Five Eyes as an entity – combined with their extensive, intrusive and dangerous powers – whistle-blowers are more important now than ever. Mainstream media often sidesteps complex and challenging issues of privacy and militarism, whereas independent investigative journalists and the whistle-blowers they work with have the time and motivation to expose abuses of power. Unfortunately they then often become targets of surveillance and state aggression themselves and so need to be supported and protected in what they do.
Tell us a little bit about the Waihopai 3? The group are made up of a priest, a subsistence farmer and a teacher – these seem like every day Kiwis, not typecast protesters. What made them do something others might consider radical?
Adrian Leason is an organic farmer and school teacher with a big family and long, varied background of working with poor and disenfranchised communities. Sam Land is a subsistence farmer living in the Hokianga who travelled to Alice Springs in 2006 and was arrested for protesting at the Pine Gap spy base. Father Peter Murnane is a Dominican Friar who has worked for peace and social justice issues and helped provide support for Ahmed Zaoui when he was being persecuted by the NZ government as a supposed terrorist. All three are part of the Catholic Worker movement committed to peace, social justice and solidarity with the poor. They were inspired by the Ploughshares’ philosophy of non-violent direct action against weapons of war.
How dependent are the New Zealand government on the security and trade that the United States provide through foreign policy? And how does that compromise our own policy and decision making around issues like our involvement in the Five Eyes network?
In the film we map out the dependence of New Zealand for its so-called ‘security’ on the US since WW2. Trade and militarism are always entwined and in an export-focussed country like ours it skews foreign policy towards alliances with major market partners (both China and the US) in ways that fundamentally undermine our sovereignty. The Five Eyes is an wholly undemocratic institution that operates without effective government scrutiny or the mandate of the citizens of the agencies’ respective countries. You end up with a Prime Minister that happily sends NZ troops to war as an admitted ‘price we pay’ for being ‘part of the club’.
Filmmakers like yourselves, investigative journalists such as Nicky Hager, and indeed the Waihopai 3, are trying to expose what these security networks are used for. What is the likely scenario if watchdogs like yourselves didn’t exist?
Well, there’s a book titled ‘1984’…
What is your reaction to the commonly heard response to the GCSB and illegal surveillance of our people – I’ve got nothing to hide so they can spy on me all they want?
People who say this either aren’t fully aware of the dangers of mass surveillance or they are being disingenuous. Do they use passwords for their email accounts? Do they lock their bathroom doors? Do they take every call on speakerphone? On a deep level people do understand their privacy is a basic human right. Another useful thing to remember is the saying “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is attributed to the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
As documentary makers, how much pre-planning and development goes into a film like this?
Years! Errol started filming in 2008 around the time of the Waihopai Three action at the base and continued to film on and off until this year. The edit took two years to complete as we had amassed a huge amount of news and original footage from both extensive research and the filming of many related events. A documentary is made in the edit, so the story develops as you work your way through it and this story was quite complex.
How difficult is it to fund not only the making of a documentary, but also ensure it gets completed and distributed?
Very difficult, unfortunately. Sourcing finances becomes a major stress as you have to be able to live and pay the rent while you work full-time on something that will take several years to complete. We were able to access a modest amount of funding from the New Zealand Film Commission and were lucky enough to have support from other human rights and journalism orientated groups, while also having to run a crowdfunding campaign. Fortunately we have the wonderful platform of the New Zealand International Film Festival from which to launch from! We have self-distributed our films in the past and this may happen again with The 5th Eye.
Will the film be shown at other film festivals around the world? If so, where?
Hopefully. We’re looking at the US, UK, Canada, Australia and the Asia-Pacific region in particular – this is a Five Eyes film after all!