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It’s with great sadness that I heard of the passing of New Zealand International Film Festival Director Bill Gosden.

I knew Bill professionally but not personally, and always watched with great admiration the way he orchestrated NZIFF with aplomb.

It was because of Bill and NZIFF that I developed a love of independent cinema and arthouse film.

Every year I made a point of catching 15 to 30 films at the fest in Auckland. Bill and his team showed us that there was more to film than the hero’s journey and Save the Cat.

I remember in 2017 going to see the 5.5 hour Japanese film Happy Hour by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, and being captivated for every minute. Or watching in 2016 the astounding Columbian film Embrace of the Serpent by Ciro Guerra, an artistic feast for the eyes and mind. Or sitting in 2014 with Ruben Östlund’s Swedish masterpiece Force Majure and British director Steven Knight’s tour de force Locke. Then there was in 2012 German director Christian Petzoid’s simply beautiful Barbara and Denis Villeneuve’s powerful, moving Incendies in 2011. I could go on—Lebanon, Page One: Inside The New York Times, I Love You Phillip Morris, Four Lions, Frank, The Hunt, etc., etc.

Equally, I suffered through a few of my own personal dislikes, such as Chinese director Jia Zhangke’s Ash is the Purest White, Portuguese critical hit Tabu by Miguel Gomes, or American director Frederick Wiseman’s interminable Ex Libris.

All these films just an example of the masterful programming of NZIFF that Bill led.

Then of course is the incredible support he gave to New Zealand filmmakers, both feature length and short, from Gaylene Preston to Florian Harbicht, Yamin Tun to Hamish Bennett, Daniel Borgman to Aidee Walker, Tim van Dammen, Becs Arahanga and Jack Niccol to name a few.

DEGNZ has had for a number of years an official connection with Bill and NZIFF through our hosting of visiting directors and introducing their films, to more recently running director masterclasses with them, like those with Debra Granik and Thom Zimny.

Bill Gosden made every wintery August a month to look forward to, and he enriched the cinematic life of New Zealand with his choices. I for one will be eternally grateful.

Bill Gosden’s memorial service will be held at the Public Trust Hall, 131–135 Lambton Quay, Wellington, on Monday 16 November, at 2:00pm.

Also an official memorial page is also being created for Bill, and you are invited to email your messages to tribute@rememberingbillgosden.nz.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

 

 

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Thanks to the New Zealand Film Commission, I was fortunate to attend the Cannes Film Festival 2018 where hopes and dreams are realized or not, and was reminded of where we Kiwis sit in the global film industry with our 5 – 15 films each year—somewhere towards the back unless someone has been good enough to put themselves in the front row.

The film industry remains dominated by two territories—North America and Europe. In 2016, 2,123 feature films were produced in Europe alone, in the US 789, while the total worldwide for that year for the top 10 markets was approximately 7,973. India with its massive output including Bollywood films tops the list with 1,903. China is clearly a major player now, too, with 944 films, but it is still grappling with how to be most effective with its money and create films with international appeal.

Although Europe is a conglomeration of cultures, in fact in film they have a shared sensibility. European films dominated European sales agents’ catalogues at Cannes, although films from South America, Africa, and the Middle East vie for space as Europe looks to other territories for the next great filmmakers. Saudi Arabia has recently thrown its film doors open and both the commercial and cultural film sectors are queuing to get in.

It’s this attraction for the new that’s possibly one reason New Zealand has been thrust aside at Cannes. In many respects we’ve already had our time in the Cote D’Azur sun. Vincent Ward, Jane Campion and a couple of others preceded Christine Jeffs with Rain, which was the last NZ film selected for Cannes in 2001. A more likely reason is that we just haven’t had a filmmaker and film with Cannes appeal. That doesn’t stop us from trying, though.

Each year thousands of films including those from NZ seek selection at Cannes. It’s hard to get in and when films do, the filmmakers, their film bodies or investors, and their sales agents celebrate. Director’s Fortnight, International Critics Week, Un Certain Regard and the most prestigious of all, Official Competition, are the sought after sections. Repeaters who are Cannes darlings often dominate official competition. This year it was Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s turn to take the top prize, the Palme d’Or, with his seventh Cannes selection.

While we all dream of a film in competition, what most Kiwi filmmakers attending Cannes are doing there is hoping to secure international sales and distribution for films that have yet to be made. A fantastic script, unknown but talented director, internationally renowned cast, commerciality, festival potential—all or a combinations of these things are what sales agents are after.

Some seek films that are bright, full of hope, comedic, or genre, and exhibiting clear commercial potential. Others are attracted to the darker side, the auteur vision, the arthouse film that could break out, although it’s definitely harder to find sales agents for such films these days even though it’s what many Europeans are still making.

We are in a sub-category of our own at Cannes, like our Australians and Canadians colleagues, with our English language peculiarities that are neither definitively US indie or European arthouse. UK sales agents although part of the European makeup are obviously more friendly to English language films, but certainly are more driven by commerciality than their European counterparts. The same for those from the US.

Elevated genre is one way for us to break out, whether it’s horror, drama or thriller, but you can’t go past a great script whatever type of film you are pitching. It’s a matter then of finding a sales agent who loves the script as much as you do. But you’ve got to get them to read it first. To do that you and your project will be put through the wringer, sometimes gently sometimes not, to see if it meets that particular sales agent’s yardstick. And the yardsticks do differ.

One key ingredient that gets films made and into the market it seems to me is passion—The passion of the writer, director and producer that’s going to see them go the hard yards across many years to get their film up. And the passion that the sales agent and distributor must have to take a film on—it’s a tough environment for them these days and you hear of as many bankruptcies or close downs as you do successes. One sales agent I know told me that from Berlin in February to Cannes in May this year, he knew of four sales agents that went bust.

Filmmaking ultimately though is about hopes and dreams, whether it’s arthouse, tent pole or something in between. Every filmmaker understands this no matter what genre or budget they are working with. The big question we all confront sooner or later is whether our hopes and dreams can be realized or they just remain pie in the sky. And Cannes can help you find the answer while delivering the spectacle that makes it the most glamorous film festival around.

I highly recommend that anyone who wants to make a film go to Cannes. It’s fun, sobering, hard work, overwhelming, and it will break you out of that isolationist world that we all mostly operate in. And I suggest you go soon. If Cannes doesn’t adapt to the changing screen world, it could end up as just a fond memory of what it used to be.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director