Hard News by Russell Brown

The Michael Moores

There are many men named Michael Moore in this world. There's the former (briefly) New Zealand PM and head of the WTO; the maker of Bowling for Columbine and The Awful Truth, and my American friend and correspondent James Michael Moore.

I actually thought that last one was the victim of the horrifying visit from the Feds (offence: thoughtcrime, citizen) described in this story on Scoop, from a private citizen whose email, critical of the American president, was intercepted without his knowledge. Fortunately, it wasn't my Mike, although the parallels - age, maritime background, liberal politics - are spookily similar. But, he told me yesterday:

"I have to admit that there have been dozens of articles, postings and even my own observations that I have not sent to you because of the very concerns that your shared article so strongly illustrates. Though it is 2002 and not 1984, I am living in Winston Smith's world ..."

The United States of America is one messed-up and scary country at the moment, and I defy anyone to tell me different in light of this story. Even those steadfast deniers of reality, American conservatives, are starting to get the fear, according to this story from Salon.com (which I can see on my Salon Premium account, but you might not be able to). To quote one passage:

"Right now, the one issue uniting civil libertarians on the left and right is Total Information Awareness, a Pentagon program being run by Poindexter that aims to create a centralized grand database of Americans' credit card purchases, medical histories, education records and other information. Through mining such data, the government hopes to discern patterns that will help catch terrorists. The problem, of course, is that to do so the government has to gather and sift through private information on millions of innocent citizens."

Matt Talbot was kind enough to send me through a couple of startling URLs from Amazon.com. This one for Uncle Fester's Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture and this one for Jack B. Nimble's The Construction and Operation of Clandestine Drug Laboratories. Both are listed as popular in - you guessed it - New Zealand. They rank 8001 and 99,454 on Amazon's overall sales chart - and numbers 19 and 9 respectively in sales to New Zealand! Good grief …

Donald Holder from the PR company 141 took issue - on Peter Jackson's behalf - with my comment yesterday to the effect that Jackson's slinging off at Film Commission chairman Barrie Everard for claiming more credit than he was due for freeing up Grant LaHood's Kombi Nation from the rubble of Larry Parr's Kahukura Productions was petty.

He pointed out that LaHood paid $20,000 of his own money to get the film back from Kahuhura's liquidators, and cannot release it until the debt to Jackson's company The Film Unit (between $180,000 and $270,000 depending on how you count it) is repaid. Everard says he did talk to liquidators and asked them to split out LaHood's film rather than try and do a deal for all four of the movies caught up in the collapse. I have no idea who has a larger purchase on the truth, but it hardly seems worth the vitriol.

Donald also sent me the press release in which Jackson announced that Everard and Commission chief executive Ruth Harley would not be welcome at the Two Towers premiere. I quote some of it below:

"Grant LaHood should be applauded for managing to extract his film Kombi Nation out of the Kahukura liquidation mess. To date the Film Commission has invested $745,000 of taxpayers’ money in Kombi Nation, so they clearly thought it could return a profit. They have a responsibility to complete the film, and sell it. Is that not their job? They should be giving immediate support to Grant to get his film finished, including clearing outstanding debts. He should not have to jump through more hoops …

”Instead Barrie Everard has stated LaHood can make an application in the normal way if he needs further assistance from the Film Commission. Barrie Everard’s attitude demonstrates how fiscal irresponsibility and vindictiveness have become the order of the day of Everard's approach as Chairman of the New Zealand Film Commission.

"Grant has done nothing wrong. Through no fault of his own the movie he directed was sent into liquidation hell due to the ill-judged actions of the NZ Film Commission. He has since waged a single-handed campaign to attempt to have it released and sold. Grant is exhibiting a responsibility that has eluded the Film Commission.”

LaHood, anyone would agree, has been put in a horrible position. But it is not the Film Commission preventing his movie being released, but Kahuhura's creditors - principally, The Film Unit. The Film Unit's debt is not with the Film Commission, but with Kahukura. If the Commission was to do as Jackson suggests and cover his bad debt in return for the release of Lahood's movie, then it would be morally - and possibly legally - obliged to cover the private debts of all Kahukura's creditors (including Inland Revenue). That, according to Everard, would amount to about $1.5 million. And the next time a film company falls over, does the Commission wade in and sort out its creditors too?

So it's not as straightforward as Jackson's angry press release indicated. I wonder, too, why relatively little blame seems to be allocated to Parr himself - if you talk to little guys in the industry, it's him they're angry with, and rightly so. Jackson's dislike for the Commission, it must be said, goes back a lot further from this incident. By some accounts it dates from an episode when the Commission pulled funding from a Harry Sinclair film project in which Jackson was involved. You'd have to ask someone who was there, I guess.

But that doesn't let the Commission off the hook for the way it gave Parr money when he was clearly out of his depth, and clearly failed to perceive problems until it was too late. Or NZ Air - which gave Parr $4 million to make 26 episodes of a terrible TV series called Love Bites when he had no track record and clearly lacked the competence for the job.

The Commission's woeful estrangement from the industry it is supposed to serve must have played a role in what has happened here. Harley seems not to be much of a one for engagement. But Everard is, and if he gets burned down through this, it might be hard to find anyone better.

Anyway, Louisa Cleave has a good story in the Herald this morning.

And, yes, we saw The Two Towers last night at the Auckland premiere. It's quite different from film one - almost exhausting in its multiple narratives and concussive sounds and pictures. But it's just there - and that in itself is the most stunning thing.

God, does that make sense? Sorry. I'm still a bit dazed, having spent nearly two hours after the film finished stuck in town with a flat battery because somebody at the AA couldn't read a goddamn map. So the service guy went to the wrong end of Lorne Street, couldn't find us, and went home to bed.

And when an AA contractor, a tow truck, finally turned up, I had to sprint up the street to stop him driving off. Then the towie got toey because he felt I'd shut the door of his truck too hard.

"If you ever open my door again," he said, which seemed unlikely. "Don't do that again, mate. It's a $70,000 piece of machinery and it's only two years old."

For God's sake man, it's a tow truck. Bring on Christmas …