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Helen's War: Portrait of a Dissident

  Directed by: Anna Broinowski
Written by: Anna Broinowski
Starring: Helen Caldicott
Links: Buy the Book
Genre: Documentary
Awards: AFI Awards: Best Documentary 2004 (nominee)

This movie gets: 7.00 (1 rating) Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

"Definitely not a nuclear family" - a review by pearly

Helen Caldicott started her career as a physician, but early in her life, she became passionate about the devastation possible with use of nuclear weapons, and has been an outspoken anti-nuclear activist ever since. Born in Melbourne, Australia, Helen has spent much of her life travelling the world trying to get the message out that humans should not use nuclear weapons or energy.

At around the time the Berlin Wall fell, Caldicott felt that she was well on the way to achieving her goal, but with the advent of the "War on Terror", she has released a new book, The New Nuclear Danger: George W. Bush's Military-Industrial Complex, and is full of new passion for the cause.

In Helen's War: Portrait of a Dissident, Helen is followed on the promotional trail for her new book by her niece Anna Broinowski, who narrates the most recent chapter in Helen's life. Although Helen argues that her book is in a similar vein to that of Michael Moore's Stupid White Men, her pull is clearly not as big as Moore's, with his book sitting in big piles on the counter, right in view of customers, and her book being hidden away on the shelves (and only two copies available). Helen struggles to gain an audience in this country where she was fairly well known only a few years earlier.

Meanwhile, Broinowski herself begins to think that Helen's lack of success is perhaps something to do with her approach, which she believes is quite patronising. Broinowski reveals some insight into the greater Broinowski family, including her father (Helen's brother), and their sister. What we then see is that not even Helen's closest family members agree 100% with what Helen is saying, and Broinowski's assertion that Helen's approach may not be right gathers some evidence. Helen cannot accept this though, and she takes great offence at being called shrill or hysterical, claiming that these are sexist words.

The debates make for a more interesting documentary than a more straight book tour fly-on-the-wall would have been. The footage shows that Helen's argumentative skills, whilst phenomenal on matters nuclear, begin to fall apart a little in other areas. However, it was great to see Helen coming up against some American folk with a tendency to speak an awful lot without actually saying anything, as Helen's speeches always have meaningful content.

The most annoying thing about this film was Broinowski's narration. While it helped the film along with explanations and her own insight into what was going on, it was extremely annoying to hear Helen constantly referred to as "my aunt". It gave the film less credibility, as far as I'm concerned; it would have been fine to establish this connection once at the beginning of the piece, but I would much have preferred Broinowski to refer to Helen as Helen for the remainder of the film. This may sound picky; if so, call me Miss Picky.

pearly gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 14 Sep 2004

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