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Giving It All Away
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by Chris Parry

"Stock standard bio-doco that really has no place in elite competition."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SXSW FILM FESTIVAL: It's not that Giving It All Away is a bad biography. It isn't that it doesn't have an interesting subject at its core, or that it is poorly put together, or that it breaks the rules of documentary-making... it's just that it's so damn average in every respect that I have a hard time figuring out what its doing showing at a film festival, and not as a life-affirming short video on Oprah.

JR McKenzie was one of those rare rich guys that you actually look up to as a man, not just for his inherrent talent in making money, but more for his abundance of humanity, displayed in his life-long hobby of giving away what he earned, and helping the community he lived in thrive. McKenzie started a retail store and was soon a name seen on the Main Street of every New Zealand town, as the owner of the place to go if you wanted inexpensive, high-quality consumer goods. McKenzie was New Zealand's answer to Sam Walton, and where Walton's empire became a world-owning, population-exploiting behemoth with no humanity to speak of, McKenzie's went theother way, realizing that if you put a little into your customer-base, they give you a lot back. This film, however, is only briefly about JR, and more about his son and heir, Sir Roy McKenzie.

Yes, it's a rare thing for a wealthy man to give away a large part of his wealth for the good of mankind, but it's even rarer still to find that his child is cut of the same cloth. For what it's worth, Sam Walton was actually a philanthropist too, but his children wasted no time abanadoning his charitable causes, instead turning all their profit inward to create a country within a country, and one which would make them each wealthy beyond their wildest imagination. the McKenzie kids learned the lessons of their parents differently, using their position in society to pursue their dreams, further their ambitions, and most importantly of all, give it all back.

In fact, Roy McKenzie takes things even further than his father did, making a career out of the creation of charitable causes, and giving away large swathes of his family wealth in the process. In fact, he even gave away the family home for use as a family center. Clearly McKenzie ne ver does anything by halves - when he began to enjoy skiing, he worked at it until he was selected to represent his country at the Olympic Games, for example. Even there, his passion for a part of life didn't end in personal achievement, spending plenty of money and using his own hands to help build a ski lodge on the mountain that could be enjoyed by families for decades.

So why does the bio of a man like this not deserve a spot at SXSW? Simply because its an amazing subject handled with absolutely zero style, artistry and originality. A plonking piano score runs from start to finish, like some sort of documentary muzak, and though the access to the family is seemingly expansive, at no point do we ever see anything but what you might expect the family wants us to see. Was McKenzie's life always so picture perfect? Does the family have its detractors? Is Sir Roy's obsession with being the best at whatever he does a sign of some sort of manic obsessive compulsive disorder? I don't know, because we never see anything but happiness and smiles. Perhaps that's the life of the McKenzie clan - smiles all round - but I tend to think that such a life lacks a very important part of the documentary recipe - and that is conflict.

A little too much Lifetime, a little too little Fog of War. Sometimes the nicest people make the least appropriate documentary topics.

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originally posted: 03/24/05 08:14:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/20/09 george inspiring, restores your faith in people 5 stars
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Directed by
  Paul Davidson

Written by
  Paul Davidson

  JR Mackenzie
  Roy Mackenzie

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