Dawn Raid – movie review

A story of aspiration and achievement, the documentary Dawn Raid is a ripper. Dawn Raid Entertainment became an institution in New Zealand in the late ‘90s and noughties. Co-founded by a couple of young big guys from South Auckland who met at business school – but only completed about a year – and didn’t have much idea of what they were doing.

Danny Leaoasavai’i was a Polynesian gang member and rapper who had been into bad stuff like fighting and drugs Andy Murnane was a white kid who got into a lot of trouble as a teenager. But the pair overcame to take on and eventually conquer The Big Apple.

They wanted to form a record label, but had no money, so they began by selling t-shirts with counterculture messages from a market. Well … that little enterprise exploded and they were on their way. A range of businesses followed, including renting premises where they built a production studio, which they had no idea how to operate. So, they hired a sound engineer who had previously lived and worked in Uzbekistan. Andy’s father, Mike, who provided advice, acted as guarantor and put up his house as collateral to allow this all to happen.

They advertised in a free paper in an endeavour to attract hip-hop artists and it worked. Money started pouring in and deal after deal followed, with corporate types lining up to cash in on Dawn Raid’s foothold on the youth market. But with increasing success and more staff came heavy expenses. The music industry was changing and Dawn Raid took its eyes off the ball. Then, it became a question of whether anything could be rescued or resurrected from the ruins.

The doco suggests the boys made the most of their situation based on gut instinct. The film includes compelling interviews with the co-founders, Andy’s dad and five of the big acts they signed. Record label execs and a film producer are also on the menu.Complete with archival footage, the documentary lifts the lid on what went down over a tumultuous decade or so. The good, the bad and the ugly are exposed, although I would have liked to see even more about the down times. It implies that for much of the time, Andy and Danny were flying by the seat of their pants.

You can’t help but warm to them and to all those who speak out. It doesn’t matter whether you like hip hop – although I, for one, loved the soundtrack. Dawn Raid serves as a life lesson for those who have ambition and drive. Visually, the doco is arresting. In fact, the whole thing has been beautifully written by Matthew Metcalfe (McLaren) and packaged by Oscar Kightley, in his documentary directorial debut. This is up there with the very best music docos.

Incidentally, the name Dawn Raid is a dig at a harsh practice by New Zealand in the ‘70s. The country’s then-leaders actively sought out and expelled Islanders who had overstayed their work permits, as they blamed Polynesians for fostering increased hostility.

Alex First

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