Raw Footage
Pierre de Villiers, TNT Magazine, October 2004

A film exploring the kidnapping and murder of a teenager has hit a nerve with New Zealand audiences. Pierre de Villiers talks to filmmaker Stuart McKenzie.

It doesn't happen often that a director readily admits that it's difficult to get people to go and see his film. Then again, rarely does a movie pack such an emotional punch as psychological thriller For Good by Kiwi filmmaker Stuart McKenzie.

Telling the story of would-be journalist Lisa Pearce (played by Michelle Langstone) who confronts the killer responsible for abducting and murdering a childhood companion, it tackles a subject that divides New Zealand – the sentencing for violent crime and the opportunity for parole. Exploring the emotions of everyone involved in the horrendous scenario of a kidnapping and homicide – from a violent criminal to the family and friends of the victim – it's an unflinching look at a topic McKenzie believes has become part of New Zealand mythology.

"The abduction and murder of young women in a rural setting isn't something that's especially prevalent in New Zealand," explains the director. "The difference is that, because the population is so much smaller in New Zealand, something like that sends shockwaves through the entire country. The impact is enormous. I realized that if I was going to make a film exploring the way it touched people's lives, it had to have a certain raw authenticity."

To ensure that For Good – which is based on the successful stage show Portraits, written by McKenzie and Miranda Harcourt – rang true, including wide-ranging interviews with convicted rapists, murderers and families of victims.

"I felt a responsibility towards those who have suffered because of the loss of a loved one in such a violent way," McKenzie says. "There was also a pressure to truly reflect the impact something like that has on a community. I read an article in the Sunday Star Times last year after I had almost finished editing the film. It was written by a journalist who was a 14-year-old Napier schoolgirl when Kirsa Jensen, also 14, was murdered there. She said: "Anyone who was a teenager when Kirsa Jensen was murdered remembers the shackles that tightened around her. It was a public loss of innocence."

While those who have seen For Good consistently praise McKenzie for his skillful handling of such a touchy subject, the film's heartrending material has unfortunately kept the public at large away. It's something the director clearly finds frustrating. "Yeah, it has been difficult to get people to see this film," McKenzie admits. "The subject matter of For Good is no more extreme than your average crime thriller. But it's different in that I have tried to remain sensitive to real lives and real voices. At the same time, I wanted to make a film for a wide audience, so I've concentrated on telling a story that's intriguing, unexpected, tense, exciting and disturbing. I want people to be left with a sense of loss painfully acknowledged and, in this way, reveal strength, not hopelessness."

Kiwis living in London have an opportunity to see For Good when it's screened at Vue Cinemas in Fulham Broadway tonight, something McKenzie is extremely happy about. "I'm so delighted the New Zealand ex-pats in London will have an opportunity to see my film," he says. "The story is so primal, I think, and taxes everybody in some way. How do you live when you lose somebody more loved than life itself? How do you forgive the unforgivable?"

Although For Good has garnered the director critical praise, McKenzie is quick to point out how big a team effort the film was. "For Good is an ensemble piece," he says. "After extensive auditions, producer Neil Pardington and myself put together a wonderful cast and actively included the actors in the development of the story through workshops and rehearsals. I knew that in this way I had the best chance of shaping powerful ensemble performances that could transcend our budget limitations.

"Often actors get onto a film set without the opportunity of having rehearsed or making discoveries about the story and their characters. It was important to us that we had sustained rehearsals before shooting so that we were all on the same wavelength."

McKenzie's tireless conviction to do the subject matter justice meant he inevitably took work home with him. "As the father of a teenage daughter and two young children, I identify strongly with the way this story dramatises parental love and loss," he says. "Especially since in the past I've lost touch with my teenage daughter. I worked on this for so long that it was impossible to shake the effects working on For Good had on me for some time. But, you know, now the film is made you move on and get involved in other projects you feel equally passionate about."

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