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When Nobody Was Looking

Directed by Alex Sutherland

Over the past couple of years we have seen a rising narrative of racial injustices experienced by Black and Indigenous populations in countries such as the United States of America. Time and time again we have seen discriminatory representation of people of colour in media and witnessed reports of police brutality. Reminding us of the racism that clearly still operates globally and within institutions.

The protests in the USA have served as a reminder of the importance of speaking up against injustices occurring in modern day society.

Yet, racism is a topic that is often swept under the rug in Aotearoa. For generations Kiwis, and in particular Pākehā New Zealanders, have learned to put their heads down and to ignore racist behaviour in our society. But racial injustices happen every day to Māori and Pacifica communities and it is up to all of us to take a stand against it.

Director Alex Sutherland and I want to tell the story of his uncle Dr Oliver Sutherland who, in the 1970’s, spoke up against racial injustices occurring in Aotearoa. In the short film ‘When Nobody Was Looking’ we will explore a section of Oliver’s life as a Pākehā entomologist and his fight against institutional racism.

Oliver’s story is not one that occurred in isolation. He and his wife Ulla Sköld along with a handful of like-minded Pākehā started the Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination (ACORD) in 1973. With their lawyer David Lange, they were part of a vanguard fighting racism and abuse alongside Ngā Tamatoa and The Polynesian Panthers.

Oliver spent 15 years discovering, campaigning and advocating for young victims of racism and abuse. These victims were mainly kids; predominantly Māori and Pacific Islanders who were getting arrested as young as eight years old. They were most often encouraged to plead guilty with no legal representation for minor crimes, including the common charge of being ‘idle’. These children often ended up in remand at Mt Eden Prison for weeks on end. Sometimes they would spend days in solitude in a bare dungeon called ‘The Well’.

Social Welfare would even put children considered ‘out of control’ in psychiatric hospitals, despite no mental illness. In the notorious Lake Alice Hospital, children as young as eight years old would receive electric shock treatment as punishment.

50 years later, this disturbing case history, meticulously archived by Oliver, has now become pivotal evidence in the current Royal Commission of Enquiry into Abuse in State Care.

This is a personal story for Alex who grew up with these injustices, and Oliver’s relentless campaigning against them, unfolding around him. It is family history, but also a significant and untold piece of Aotearoa’s social and political history that needs to be told.

‘When Nobody Was Looking’ has been selected to be a part of the award winning short documentary platform, Loading Docs. The project will be in the crowdfunding stage of production until the 16th of April 2021.

If you wish to support or simply learn more about this culturally significant documentary please follow us on Facebook or consider making a donation to the project. Funds raised will be used to acquire archival TV footage, produce animated photo and drawn story elements, and also pay for the crew and equipment for filming interviews.

Alex and I wish to thank you for your support and finally, we would like to thank STIR and its members for the generous contribution they have already made to this short film.

If you have any further inquiries about the project please email:

Ngā Mihi,

Bianca Delalic


About the Team:

As the nephew of Dr Oliver Sutherland, this is a hugely important and personal story for director Alex Sutherland. Alex grew up close to this story and the artistic community surrounding it. Of Ngāi Tahu descent, Alex’s previous short documentary The Jump is one of Loading Docs' most successful films to date. Producer Bianca Delalic also has a deep understanding of creating stories centred on the justice system and wider social injustices.


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