The New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) is almost upon us. It’s usually my opportunity to catch up on as many films as I can jam in; films that often don’t get a release here but have achieved significant recognition in festivals, often in Europe.
I’ve just gotten back from spending eight days closeted in a Lithuanian hotel with 70 or so almost exclusively European writers, directors and producers, learning about coproducing there. Many European films are made as co-productions. Just look at the country credits in the NZIFF programme to see this. Two, three, four countries receive origin credits on many of the films. Filmmakers have to collaborate to survive in Europe. And they do. Co-productions broaden the potential financing base, allowing films to get made that can’t get up solely in one country.
While New Zealand has official coproduction treaties with 17 countries and counting, we don’t make that many official co-productions. Different regulatory environments, content that doesn’t easily span the divide and cultural differences are just some of the reasons why.
We don’t have a coproduction treaty with Australia, rather a Memorandum of Understanding—essentially the same thing. You’d think that with similar languages and cultures that we’d be working frequently with our Australian counterparts, but that’s not the case, although it’s changing. When our incentive increased to 40 per cent for TV as well as film, a lot of Australians noticed.
Australians like us are dependent on government financing to get films made. Director Niki Caro reminded us when she spoke at DEGNZ Selects last month to appreciate and treasure this government support, which allows us to get films up and out into the world for audiences to see. And that’s an increasingly difficult thing to do.
New Zealand and Australian filmmakers alike struggle to get their own people to watch their films. Of course there are the Wilderpeople and Last Cab to Darwin exceptions, but generally locally produced films in both countries have a hard time at the box office. The same lacklustre results come from our films in their market and vice versa.
It’s no easier for films in Europe. Most of them certainly don’t make their money back either. And they have as much difficulty as we do to find audiences for their films amidst the competition for eyeballs going on.
It is interesting for me to note the difference in filmmaking between Australasia and Europe from my recent experience.
Down here, there is a distinct pulling away from arthouse and toward genre and commercial films. Up there, of the 29 projects at the workshop I was at, 16 were arthouse, 2 animation, 4 documentary, 4 thriller, 2 comedy drama and 1 romcom. And in the genre areas (thriller, comedy drama, romcom), 50 per cent of the projects were from the UK. Arthouse still rules in Europe.
European filmmakers, particularly directors, it seems to me, see film as art. And they very intently use it to make strong thematic statements through macro and micro storytelling. Educated to think in three-act Anglo Saxon story structure, I can tell you it’s been difficult to analyse a 50-page arthouse feature film script from a European writer director who writes pictorially.
In the end, we may have different approaches to storytelling but we are all after the same result—to craft a strong film that has something to say and for it to find an audience to say it to. Arthouse? Entertainment? Something else? Different strokes for different folks.
Thank God for the New Zealand International Film Festival. It has pretty much something for everyone, Hollywood blockbusters aside, and the best of European filmmaking on offer. Make the most of it.