As the nation plunges into pandemic, Gwen Isaac’s observational documentary delves into the trenches with Siouxsie Wiles, the fuchsia-haired microbiologist who emerged as a national hero and a satanic witch in the minds of a divided New Zealand.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
For much of the confined population, regular media appearances by scientist Siouxsie Wiles were a calming and enlightening presence amid the fear and confusion of Covid-19. While she was cooly urging the populace not to panic, Siouxsie herself was the target of hate and hysteria from certain groups who took issue with her work protecting the population’s health.
“What is the world’s problem with women like me?” the microbiologist wonders in this candid fly-on-the wall documentary covering the pressure-filled two-year period from the first appearance of the virus. An influx of interviews establishes the unmistakable Siouxsie as a go-to expert, earning her the grateful admiration of a worried public along with the misogynistic online abuse from an unfortunate few.
The camera tracks the scientist through both professional and personal life, following along on innumerable media meetings and watching her household brace for impact. Whether gushing over the beauty of fungal spores in a petri dish or implacably deflecting the barbs of agitated talk show hosts, Siouxsie’s proficiency and passion shine as bright as her hair.
Things take a darker turn when the toxic messaging grows to include harassing phone calls, vitriolic video messages, and publication of the family’s home address. When Siouxsie becomes a target for conspiracy connoisseur Billy TK and his acolytes, the documentary provides an intimate look at a family dealing with a dramatic version of the division being felt throughout the nation.
There’s anger, there’s frustration and there’s anguish as Siouxsie is victimised for nothing less than trying to save lives. But through it all she laces up her great, glittery boots and presses forward with ferocity and heart. — Adrian Hatwell