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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Dawn Raid (M) - 98 minutes

A story of aspiration and achievement, crash and burn, 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 – they only completed a little more than a year – and didn’t have much idea of what they were doing, the doco is a ripper.

The pair – Danny Leaoasavai’i, a Polynesian gang member and rapper who had been into bad stuff like fighting and drugs and Andy Murnane, a white kid who got into a lot of trouble as a teenager – took on and eventually conquered 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, provided advice, acted as guarantor and put up his house as collateral to allow this all to happen.

But the doco suggests the boys made the most of the situation and the times based on gut instinct.

They advertised in a free paper in an endeavour to attract hip hop artists and it worked.

The documentary 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.

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.

Complete with a surfeit of historic footage, the documentary lifts the lid on what went down over a most exciting and tumultuous decade or so.

All those spoken to are erudite and expressive. They don’t hold back.

The good, the bad and the ugly are exposed, although I would have liked to see even more about the down times.

It comes across that for much of the time, Andy and Danny were flying by the seat of their pants.

They were bold and brash – larger than life figures – and learned plenty along the way.

You can’t help but warm to them and to all those who speak out.

It matters not whether or not 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 came from a dig at a harsh practice by New Zealand in the ‘70s.

That’s when the country’s leaders actively sought out and expelled Islanders who had overstayed their work permits, as they attributed Polynesians with fostering increased hostility.

Rated M, Dawn Raid scores an 8 out of 10.


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