Lost In Wonderland

Sunday 30 August 8.30pm

New Zealand Director: Zoe McIntosh

A bent movie about a straight lawyer.

The Times of London cited barrister Rob Moodie for the most outrageous behaviour by a lawyer in 2006 after he represented himself in the New Zealand High Court dressed as Alice in Wonderland. He’s a straight bloke who likes to wear dresses. To some, he seems a freak, to others he’s a hero. Rob Moodie is an enigma to most. Until now. This film unravels the puzzle of a man who is above all an optimist, and a single minded battler for justice. Moodie’s extraordinary life, career and personality are examined in a documentary that’s as colourful as its subject matter. Our story really begins in early childhood, at the moment when young Rob, aged 7, sat in the back of a courtroom and listened as a judge made him and his older brother Bill wards of the state. That was the moment when he literally fell down a rabbit hole, disappearing from his family into a world that made no sense, and where other people made the rules. ‘Moodie had a profound sense of dislocation that left him struggling to find identity when growing up. He fitted in easily wherever he went, but he talks about feeling always as if he were an objective outsider, observing and analyzing everything with a sense of detachment. He seems to have questioned gender roles from a very young age. If he did not actively resist it, then he at least questioned why boys and girls were expected to look and behave differently. Moodie talks wistfully about looking at a girl’s bright yellow ribbon, and wanting to wear one in his own hair. He recalls, “Girls were sugar and spice, and all things nice, boys were snips and snails and puppy dogs tails … I asked why we had to be one or the other”. He wanted to embrace it all, whether it be dolls, diggers or dresses. And he formed a lifelong contempt for those who would say “no” – not from wisdom or fairness, but out of unquestioning conformity. Rob Moodie’s battles against conformity and unfairness form the narrative spine of the movie, moving from his early days as a crime busting police detective, to his training as a lawyer, then years of national prominence as the head of the police union. The police were one of the most conservative groups in the country. Moodie dragged them kicking and screaming into the 20th century. And he did it wearing a kaftan and his wife’s pearls. After a few years of semi-retirement, Moodie returned to the law after a plea for help from a senior police friend whose life and career had been ruined by a bogus fraud charge. Moodie not only rehabilitated his friend’s reputation, he won a huge action for compensation. The legal case at the heart of this film is another story, and one which pitted Moodie against the combined forces of the New Zealand Army, the Government, and the entire justice system, all of which seemed to close ranks in a remarkably sustained display of injustice. His clients, a farming couple, had been found guilty of negligence by a Coroners court after a bridge built on their land by the army collapsed, killing a man. The couple lost everything trying to defend themselves. After he took their case, Moodie discovered a secret document which proved the army knew the bridge was deficient in design and materials, yet had given evidence to the coroner that nothing related to the structure’s construction had contributed to its failure. Moodie was unable to table the document in court because of laws forbidding public disclosure of army courts of inquiry reports. Caught in a dilemma, Moodie became a prisoner of his conscience. Unable to live with repressing the truth, he leaked the document on the internet. He was charged in the High Court with contempt. It was a charge that could have potentially ended his long career. At times of greatest stress in his life, Moodie says he always feels stronger when dressed as a woman. How appropriate then, that he faced the greatest crisis in his life dressed as Alice in Wonderland. As he later said, “Alice was trapped in a world of madness, and so was I”. The outcome of this case proved uplifting, and provided the final clues to Moodie’s nature, and the reasons why he is the way he is.

LOST IN WONDERLAND premieres at the NZFF in July and August, prior to its World Television Premiere on the Documentary Channel

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