Support Independent Film in Theatres

Here we are again with New Zealand International Film Festival about to start. The weather’s been relatively atrocious. And digital is still buffeting the film and television worlds, with indie film taking the biggest hit.

We’ve had Lightbox, Neon, Netflix, Quickflix and now Amazon’s Prime Video for a while, along with OnDemand services from TVNZ and Mediaworks. Just the other day Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage Maggie Barry issued a press release marking NZFC’s TVOD service passing the 100-title mark. Even the festival has gotten into it with its own TVOD platform showing a few NZ and international titles. There is something special about the big screen experience, though, and I’m a fan of it.

Director Christopher Nolan just came out and said that he would never work with Netflix because his films are made for watching in theatres. He did however complement Amazon for offering a theatrical release and a three-month window before they streamed the films they acquire.

I was fortunate to be in Cannes this year and watched Bong Jun Ho’s Okja on the big screen at the Cannes Film Festival. I really liked it, and it was a pleasure to see it writ large. Okja was a Netflix Original that sneaked into Cannes where it was both booed and received a standing ovation. The Federation of French Cinemas kicked up such a fuss that Cannes introduced a new rule that only films committed to being screened in French movie theatres could be selected for the festival. To understand this you need to know (if you don’t already) that France views film and the cinema experience seriously—the release windows of Theatre, TV, DVD/BluRay and Streaming are jealously guarded, with 36 months required between Theatre and Streaming. Netflix of course cuts straight through this in most other countries. I note though that Ho ensured Okja got into cinemas in his home country of South Korea, even though the three major exhibitors refused to take it because of Netflix’s no-hold back policy that doesn’t allow for theatrical windows.

There’s no holding Netflix back at the moment, though. They’ve just recently announced another 5.2 million subscribers added in the last quarter—just over a million in the US and the rest internationally. Half of Netflix’s subscribers are now outside the US, with domestic growth slowing while international is exceeding their forecasts.

There is concern in some quarters about Netflix’s financials, as commentators believe Netflix will need to increase local content production to grow or maintain international subscriptions. They are already spending $6 billion a year on content at the moment, but investors are kept happy as long as there is booming consumer growth.

It would be nice to see some of that content money spent here but we have yet to see a locally produced Netflix show, although Monkey, shot at Kumeu Studios is a joint production between Australia’s See-Saw and NZ’s Jump TV for Netflix, the ABC and TVNZ.

There is laughter in some quarters about TVNZ Deputy Head of Content Andrew Shaw’s recent comment that Netflix is a passing fad. In comparison to the other streaming services paltry offerings in NZ, Netflix’s NZ feed is looking quite good. It will be interesting to see in two years time who’s passed and who’s still alive and kicking amongst the current bunch.

But all this Netflix chat has distracted me from what I wanted to say: and that is a call out to support independent film on the big screen.

We have an extremely highly regarded festival right here in NZIFF, offering us the best of what world cinema has to offer. And you can watch a lot of them in the magnificent Civic theatre, or at a number of other cinemas, including new venues the refurbished Hollywood in Avondale and the ASB Waterfront Theatre.

An Australasian distributor said to me recently that he thinks NZIFF is the best programmed film festival in the world, and he’s been going to many of them internationally for years. And this year there’s a fantastic programme of NZ films showing, a number of them directed by our very own DEGNZ members.

It’s tough out there in the independent film world, and every NZ film is an indie from a global perspective. This is a great time to celebrate our own films and those of other independent filmmakers—in theatres where they are best seen; otherwise you miss the ‘cinematic’ experience they all strive for.

I saw NZIFF’s opening night film The Square last night. It won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. Some criticised it for being too long. But that’s what European filmmakers do—make the films they want to. The Square was fabulous, funny, cinematic, and a joy to watch on the Civic’s massive screen.

I’m not hitting out at Netflix, though. I binge watch TV series as much as the next person. But if we want independent film (and that includes NZ film) to continue to exist, we’ve got to support screenings in theatres.

Thankfully, NZIFF travels nationally. I hope all of you get to take in at least one film during its run. There’s something for everyone.

On a final note, DEGNZ wishes NZIFF Festival Director Bill Gosden a speedy recovery from the illness that’s keeping him from his beloved festival.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

A Lot Going On

There’s a lot going on in the NZ screen industry at the moment, so I thought I would touch on a number of subjects.

First up is the NZFC’s Ramai Hayward Directors’ Scholarship for wahine Māori. A lot has been made of the fact that there hasn’t been a Māori woman director since Merata Mita 30 years ago and this award is looking to change that. The big elephant in the room in regard to this is why? Is it because there hasn’t been a decent script from a female Māori writer/director or writer and female Māori director to date that would get across the line? Or is it the bias that has seen so few women get to direct features in New Zealand? Or just a total lack of support for Māori women? Whatever the case it’s fantastic news that two absolutely talented wahine who deserve it have received the award. Rachel House is a gifted director in film and theatre, a great actor and is coming to the fore as an acting coach as well. Briar Grace-Smith is already well established as one of our premiere playwrights and screenwriters. I’m expecting both will prove themselves eminently capable as film directors with their debut features and look forward to seeing their stories on screen.

While talking about the Film Commission it hasn’t gone unnoticed that producer Chris Hampson and former radio exec. and businessman Ross McRobbie have reached the end of their terms on the board. They’ve been replaced by former production exec. and producer Paula Jalfon and ex ATEED CEO Brett Riley. Look at the NZFC board now and it’s obvious there’s a massive hole. Witi Ihimaera was the last active creative voice on the NZFC board representing artists. The previous one prior to that and the only feature film director in the last eight years if not longer was Vanessa Alexander. It’s high time there was an experienced feature film director on the NZFC board advocating for creatives amidst the board’s incredibly business and bureaucrat heavy make-up. We’ll be putting some names forward for the next board seat vacancy.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment announced last Thursday that they are launching a review of the Copyright Act. As any of you who read the op-eds by me will know, copyright is dear to our heart… cause we don’t have it and should. We were an active participant in the MBIE and MCH Copyright In The Creative Sector Study, and intend to be more active as the review takes place. As an aside it was pleasing to see Google taken to task by EU regulators with a $2.7 billion anti-trust fine for abusing its dominance by giving illegal advantage to its shopping comparison service. Google is using its massive power to weaken copyright law here and elsewhere.

NZ On Air has introduced its platform agnostic funding strategy, and there are apparently hands being extended out of the woodwork old and new. This is putting pressure on NZ On Air’s funds as they haven’t had a funding increase in 10 years, which many of you would know because it’s pretty much getting shouted from the rooftops these days. Online platforms particularly are queuing up to get funding for audiovisual content, and from our point of view exploiting content makers along the way. As I said last week and will say again, don’t sign a contract with an online platform without talking to your guild first.

Speaking of online content makers, I see Duncan Grieve is having an open spat with Gavin Strawhan, one of the writers of Filthy Rich. Grieve has gotten personal saying what many are thinking about NZ TV as they watch Netflix, Amazon, Neon or Lightbox. We all wait with bated breath to see what comes from the first round of NZ On Air funding under the new system. Will it be more of the same from TVNZ for drama and comedy or something else?

And that brings me to the worst kept secret in town, which is the management shakeup at TVNZ. Everyone knows it’s happened, and depending on who you are you know who’s still got a job and what the job is. But TVNZ seems to be keeping their head down about it as nothing has come out through their comms channels. Is it fodder for their next reality series? Time will undoubtedly tell.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director