Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tax authority hounds dead teen for not filing.

Cameron Duncan surprised the people around him. As just a young teen he started making films. And people were impressed, very impressed. His films were short and autobiographical, but he compressed more meaning into a few minutes of film than most directors do in feature length blockbusters.

As hard as it is to believe, he was the inspiration for the theme song to Lord of the Rings. Song writer Fran Walsh, and her husband, producer Peter Jackson, had become friends of the boy.

Cameron produced films about the life he knew. And the life he knew as a teen was facing death. Duncan was diagnosed with cancer. He would be 21 now, had he lived. Cameron died at the age of 17. But not even the dead rest in peace when the tax man is around.

The problems started in 2002. The family received an tax assessment for $500,000. Sharon Duncan, Cameron’s mother, handled the family finances. She was sure this had to be a mistake. But in the mad rush to try to treat Cameron’s illness she simply put it aside.

The family sought out medical care apparently not available in from the New Zealand government-run system. Altogether they say that it cost over $1 million (US $750,000) in order to seek care outside of New Zealand, including the costs of travel and lodging. And some of that money went toward Cameron’s passion: his films.

Donors across the country gave them the bulk of the money and the rest they received by mortgaging their house. Cameron’s father, Rhys, says that all the money they received went into Cameron’s battle to live. In the end they faced bankruptcy and Cameron was gone.

The $500,000 bill was a mistake. But then they got hit with another tax bill which they couldn’t pay. It was just $9,000 but with penalties it had gone up to $108,000. The Inland Revenue Department froze their bank account so they couldn’t make payments.

And to make things worse, every year, without fail, the family was penalized because Cameron was failing to file his tax forms. And every year Inland Revenue were told he had died only to penalize them again the next year. Sharon Duncan said the tax authorities “were hammering me right through Cameron’s illness, right through his death and right into bankruptcy.”

One of the short film’s Cameron produced before his death is above. Take the time to watch it.

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