My Year with Helen follows former New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark, during her bid to become United Nations Secretary General. Her appointment would have addressed a gender problem within the UN, making her the first woman to hold the position following the eight men that had filled the role since the organisation’s inception in 1945. Sadly, it was not to be.
Gaylene Preston’s documentary is a fly on the wall to the inner workings of the most powerful intergovernmental organisation in the world and unfortunately, this transpires to be a rather disheartening tale but one in which Aunty Helen proves her determination, dignity and resolve, as well as her pretty good sense of humour.
In a time when some male world leaders seem to be having a schlong swinging contest, it’s people like Helen Clark that give us normal folk the hope that we’re not, in fact, all doomed; there are great people out there working for the good of the world. For the last eight years, Helen Clark has been Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, a role that saw her become hugely influential – Forbes named her 22nd most powerful woman in the world in 2016 (that’s just below Oprah and above Queen Liz, who’d have thunk it). So, Secretary General seemed like the next logical step for an ambitious and talented woman such as herself. However, we now know she was unsuccessful.
A few things really stood out about this film. Firstly, Helen Clark is a smart, composed, and a capable person whose professional tenacity makes her more than deserving of the global admiration and respect she receives. Secondly, the doors to the processes of the UN are thrown open as is the equality discussion. We’re shown a selection system for Secretary General that is really rather mind boggling and seemingly undemocratic in its decision-making process. Surely it’s not really still an old boys club? Preston interviews many supporters for Helen, and for the movement of female representation within the UN, and these champions represent all of us on the outside who want to see change.
Thirdly, she should be a model to other leaders on how to use social media. She’s shown either Tweeting, Instagraming or talking about posting throughout the documentary, showing off her skills on camera by giving a few tips on Instagram to a companion. If you don’t already follow Helen on Twitter, Instagram, or even Snapchat I urge you to ASAP.
Lastly, Helen is the BEST daughter. Outside of her professional life, there’s a touching glimpse into her personal relationships. Her close relationship with her 94-year-old father is one of the highlights of the film, not only for her dedication to him (calling him daily no matter where she is), but for the pure scene stealing powers that he himself possesses. George Clark is sharp and witty and totally on the ball of what his daughter is up to. It also says a lot about the character of a woman of Helen’s seniority that when she’s back in New Zealand she cooks up a batch of around 90 meals for her dad to stock up his chest freezer. Can you imagine a male equivalent doing the same? Well, defiantly not the current POTUS anyway.
Although at times My Year with Helen made me feel discouraged and frustrated about the equality debate, I also found myself feeling proud and hopeful. If Helen’s resolve doesn’t waver then why should ours? I’ve long been a fan of Helen Clark’s smarts and excellent ability to stage her point concisely and directly. These are the qualities that make her such a captivating and inspiring protagonist in a film about determination, success, failure and hope for change.
My Year with Helen is out in cinemas from 31 August.
Reviewed by Ingrid Grenar