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Social justice leader . . . The extraordinary life and untimely death of leading New Zealand unionist and social justice campaigner Helen Kelly is explored in the documentary Helen Kelly: Together, which is screening in the New Zealand International Film Festival. IMAGE: NZIFF

By BRENDA HARWOOD

Tony Sutorius had the privilege of close access to unionist and social justice campaigner Helen Kelly for the final year of her life.

The resulting extraordinary documentary, Helen Kelly: Together, reveals some of the essential nature of Ms Kelly, who continued caring and fighting for the most vulnerable members of society right to the end.

Helen Kelly: Together is screening at Movie Max in Timaru at 3pm on Sunday and 4pm on Monday as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Speaking by phone, Sutorius said Ms Kelly was truly a “woman of the people, who had networks of contacts right across all sectors of the community”.

“I was very aware of the privilege of my position, to be able to spend that time with her. It was something very special.”

Sutorius walked alongside Ms Kelly as she underwent hospital treatment for non-smoking-related lung cancer, butted heads with Wellington bureaucrats, spent time with the Pike River families and fought for justice regarding health and safety issues.

“I was very aware of the privilege of my position, to be able to spend that time with her. It was something very special,” Sutorius said.

“And it was a very positive experience as well, to be with such a seriously humanistic person, and to gain a sense of how she operated.

“Helen was very intelligent, she had a lot of practical knowledge and she really listened to people’s issues and cared about them.

“And she had enormous energy – even when she was in the hospice, she was working.”

Along with its intimate portrait of a New Zealand social justice icon, Sutorius believes the film also reveals a lot about New Zealand society – the way we intersect with each other and who gets justice.

“I think people right across the political spectrum will find it interesting.”

Helen Kelly: Together screens at Movie Max on Sunday, August 18, at 3pm, and at 4pm on Monday, August 19. The New Zealand International Film Festival runs in Timaru from August 15-25.