NZ IFF 2020 Day 8

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band

A compelling, but extraordinarily disingenuous documentary covering The Band, from Robbie Robertson’s roots in Canada (Levon Helm’s life in Arkansas doesn’t rate a mention, and the other Canadian members are merely glanced at until they enter the Robbie Show). While many aspects of the documentary are compelling and fascinating - and very interesting if you have even the slightest interest in the history of North American folk, rock, or related music - it’s incredibly biased, and you’d not know from any of the material; there’s a lot of sinning of omission going on here, all in favour of making sure you walk away with the impression that Saint Robbie and his wife (actually ex-wife, but that’s not mentioned in the doco, presumbaly in the interests of keeping the narrative around Robertson’s life as a perfect family man intact).

To provide a simple example: at one point, much is made the Robertson married near the start of the existence of The Band as an independent entity, and had his first child. The film paints his bandmates as wild, deranged, madmen during this period - but they were all marrying and having kids at the same time. Robertson’s ex-wife has plenty of air time (although not identified as being divorced), while the wives of the other members get… none. Nor does the other surviving member.

This is pretty much a documentary intended to make sure you walk away with the impression that Robertson was and is the only real creative genius in The Band, and that its dissolution and any ill-fortunate that followed the other members is their fault. While I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t recommend using it as anything other than “the world according to Robbie.”


Not a movie, as such, but a set of episodes from series stuck together to make the length of a film. This is a really, really good piece of work: it opens with a young trans man, who is working as an activist in Auckland while having an affair with a notable, married, and ostensibly straight rugby player. When the player takes his own life, and the wife discovers the deception and heaps abuse on Caz, our central character, he flees the big smoke for the small town he grew up in.

The problem, though, is that Caz fled before transition: everyone knew him as a girl, and they have never met the man. Worse, his own fear and youthful trauma mean that he stayed away even when his mother died, leaving his father to grieve a dead wife without his only child. The scene, then, is set for tension and conflict.

Caz has a lot of explaining to do: why he ran away. Why he abandoned his mother to die alone, thinking her child had abandoned her. To old boyfriends. But he has a lot to learn, as well: his father has changed, radically, in his absence, and he will be surprised at where he does, and doesn’t, find acceptance.

This series is absolutely of New Zealand: the accents, the language, the places. As someone who grew up in provincial NZ, and moved to the “big city”, every character rings so utterly true it aches. The writing and acting are almost note-perfect. I adored this.