Ms. Information is a 2023 documentary film directed by Gwen Isaac that follows the life of Dr. Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist and science communicator who became a national hero and a controversial figure in New Zealand during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The film offers an intimate and candid look at how Siouxsie balances her professional and personal roles, while facing the challenges of being a woman in science, a public educator, and a target of online abuse and conspiracy theories.
Story and Plot
The film covers a two-year period from the first appearance of the novel coronavirus in late 2019 to the end of 2021, when New Zealand successfully eliminated community transmission of the virus. It traces the journey of Siouxsie, who is an associate professor at the University of Auckland and the head of the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab, as she becomes one of the most trusted and influential voices in the country’s response to the pandemic.
Ms. Information documentary shows how Siouxsie uses her expertise in infectious diseases and her passion for science communication to educate the public about the virus, the lockdown measures, the testing and tracing systems, and the vaccine development.
She appears regularly on various media platforms, such as radio, television, podcasts, and social media, to explain complex scientific concepts in simple and engaging ways. She also collaborates with other scientists, such as epidemiologist Michael Baker and mathematician Shaun Hendy, to provide evidence-based advice to the government and the public.
The movie also reveals how Siouxsie copes with the pressures and demands of being a prominent scientist and a mother of a young daughter. She juggles her responsibilities at work and at home, while dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic. She shares her joys and frustrations with her supportive husband, who is also a scientist, and her close friends and colleagues.
The film does not shy away from showing the darker side of Siouxsie’s experience as well. She faces constant harassment and threats from online trolls, anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theorists, and misogynists who attack her credibility, appearance, gender, and family. She receives abusive messages, phone calls, emails, and even death threats. She also becomes a target of Billy Te Kahika Jr., a political leader and musician who spreads false information about Covid-19 and accuses Siouxsie of being part of a global plot to enslave humanity.
It also explores how Siouxsie responds to these challenges with courage, resilience, and humor. She does not let the haters silence her or stop her from doing her work. She continues to speak out for science and truth, while also showing compassion and empathy for those who are confused or scared by the pandemic. She also finds solace and strength in her hobbies, such as knitting, gardening, and collecting fungi.
Ms. Information had its world premiere at the Whanau Marama: New Zealand International Film Festival on July 23rd 2023. It received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike, who praised its honest and insightful portrayal of Siouxsie’s life and work.
The film was also selected for several international film festivals, such as Sundance Film Festival, Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, Sheffield Doc/Fest, and IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. The film was released theatrically in New Zealand on October 26th 2023, followed by screenings in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States, and other countries.
Ms. Information Documentary Cast
|Dr. Siouxsie Wiles
|Dr. Steven Galbraith
|Dr. Michelle Dickinson
|Herself’s friend (aka Nanogirl)
|Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris
|Herself’s friend (aka Vaccine Lady)
|Dr. Emma Espiner
|Herself’s friend (aka Mediawatch)
|Dr. Jess Berentson-Shaw
|Herself’s friend (aka The Workshop)
|Dr. Michael Baker
|Herself’s colleague (aka The Epidemiologist)
|Dr. Shaun Hendy
|Herself’s colleague (aka The Mathematician)
|Dr. David Welch
|Herself’s colleague (aka The Modeller)
|Dr. Alex James
|Herself’s colleague (aka The Physicist)
|Dr. Teuila Vaega
|Herself’s colleague (aka The Virologist)
|Dr. Deborah Williamson
|Herself’s colleague (aka The Microbiologist)
|Dr. Nikki Turner
|Herself’s colleague (aka The Immunisation Expert)
|Dr. Ashley Bloomfield
|The Director-General of Health (aka The Leader)
|Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
|The Prime Minister of New Zealand (aka The Leader)
|Billy Te Kahika Jr.
|The Conspiracy Theorist
|Various media personalities
Director, Production, Editor, Producer
|Alex Reed, Phillida Perry, Gwen Isaac
|July 23rd 2023 (New Zealand International Film Festival) October 26th 2023 (New Zealand)
Ms. Information was directed by Gwen Isaac, a documentary filmmaker who has previously made films such as The Art of Recovery (2015), The Kiwi, the Knight and the Qashqai (2017), and The Heart Dances (2019). She was inspired to make a film about Siouxsie after meeting her at a science festival in 2019 and being impressed by her charisma and knowledge. She approached Siouxsie with the idea of making a film about her life and work, and Siouxsie agreed to participate.
It has been produced by Alex Reed, Phillida Perry, and Gwen Isaac, with funding from the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air, and the Science Media Centre. The film was shot over two years, from December 2019 to December 2021, with a small crew of four people. The film used a mix of observational footage, interviews, archival material, animation, and music to tell Siouxsie’s story.
The film faced some challenges during the production process, such as the Covid-19 lockdowns, which limited the access and mobility of the crew. The film also had to deal with the ethical and legal issues of filming Siouxsie’s online harassment and threats, as well as the potential risks of exposing her personal information and location. The film also had to balance the scientific accuracy and accessibility of the information presented in the film, as well as the emotional impact and entertainment value of the story.
Complete editing was done by John Silvester, who had previously worked with Gwen Isaac on The Art of Recovery and The Heart Dances. The film was scored by David Long, a composer and musician who has worked on films such as Beyond the Edge (2013), McLaren (2017), and They Shall Not Grow Old (2018). The film also featured original songs by Siouxsie’s husband Steven Galbraith, who is a singer-songwriter and a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Auckland. The film’s animation was done by Ruben O’Hara, a young animator who created colorful and whimsical illustrations to accompany Siouxsie’s explanations of scientific concepts.
The film received critical acclaim from both local and international reviewers, who praised its engaging and inspiring portrayal of Siouxsie’s life and work. The film was described as “a fascinating and timely documentary that celebrates science, women, and humanity” by The New Zealand Herald, “a compelling and moving portrait of a scientist who is both brilliant and brave” by Variety, “a witty and warm tribute to a woman who is a role model for us all” by The Guardian, and “a powerful and poignant reminder of the importance of science communication in times of crisis” by IndieWire.
Ms. Information also received positive feedback from audiences, who expressed their admiration and gratitude for Siouxsie’s contributions to the fight against Covid-19. The film had a high audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb, Letterboxd, and Flicks. The film also sparked discussions on social media about science education, public health, gender equality, online safety, and civic responsibility.
It has won several awards at various film festivals, such as the Audience Award at the New Zealand International Film Festival, the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the Best International Feature Documentary Award at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, and the Best Female-Directed Documentary Award at the IDFA International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.