The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) took an official delegation to China and Taiwan in June of this year, and I was fortunate to be invited along to Taipei for the Taiwan leg as the ED of DEGNZ.
There was a strong indigenous focus to the visit with the New Zealand Commercial Investment Office (our government’s official representation there) and the NZFC organising a Matariki Festival with a number of events for the Taiwanese Film Industry, and public screenings of some New Zealand films.
On show were Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Born to Dance, and My Wedding and Other Secrets, with director Tammy Davis and DEGNZ board member and director Roseanne Liang along to introduce and do Q & A’s for their films. Also attending were writer and director Michael Bennett, representing Ngā Aho Whakaari, and playwright and screenwriter Briar Grace-Smith.
Taiwan has 11 officially recognised indigenous tribes and there is a very strong link between the Taiwanese indigenous peoples and Māori, with everyone acknowledging whakapapa through our DNA connections. This connection has received official acknowledgement with the New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New Zealand signing a document entitled “Arrangement on Cooperation on Indigenous Issues”. This will establish cultural and “people-to-people” connections between Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and New Zealand Māori in order to promote mutual understanding and friendly relations.
This was my second visit to Taiwan, following my time there in October of last year to attend the Asian Producers Network conference. I was once again struck by the friendliness of the people, particularly the strong and positive response by the indigenous locals to anything and anyone Māori. There was even a Māori cultural group made up of ex-pats out of Hong Kong to give the various events some distinctive Aotearoa New Zealand flavour.
As part of the effort to develop bonds between Taiwan and New Zealand, the NZFC and the Taipei Film Commission announced a Professional Sreenwriters Exchange. Under the exchange one professional screenwriter from Taiwan will travel to New Zealand and one professional screenwriter from New Zealand will travel to Taiwan for at least a month, in order to strengthen cultural ties and promote greater cooperation between the film industries on both sides.
The exchange is intended to occur on an annual basis and is aimed at applicants who have experience writing a minimum of one feature film script that has been produced as a feature-length film. They also need to have either direct personal experience or a strong interest in Māori culture and/or the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan.
I lived in Japan for a long time and have visited China a couple of times and many Southeast Asian countries repeatedly. Of them all, I feel that Taiwan is at the moment perhaps the most proactively open to doing coproductions with New Zealand. While the budgets there aren’t big with US$1 million being the average film budget and an almost purely commercial focus on box office, Taiwan I think offers great opportunity for filmmakers who want to work with Asian partners … with the right story.
On our delegation were some producers who are already engaged with Taiwan on projects, looking to leverage off a Taiwan-NZ connection, or working with Taiwan to access Mainland China.
Official activity aside, Taipei has great architecture, galleries and museums, outdoor activities and fabulous food. And wouldn’t you know it, after delegates found various ways to wing their way there via stopovers in Singapore, Hong Kong or Brisbane, Air New Zealand opened up direct flights to Taiwan after our visit.
I guess you can’t have it all.