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We are in the midst of election turmoil both here and in the United States.

Pork barrel politics are in full swing here with promises from all sides intended to sway voters.

We are fortunate, though, that the Arts has already received funding from Government due to COVID in the $8 million-dollar Cultural Capability allocation over two years ($2 million each) to New Zealand On Air, the NZFC, the NZ Music Commission and Creative New Zealand.

Additionally, from the total $150 million allocation it’s managing for the Government’s COVID 19 Sector Regeneration Fund for Arts, Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage (MCH) is sorting out now how to best spend the other $12 million in Cultural Capability funding. A number of us in the screen sector and from other Creative and Arts-related organisations have been in focus groups with MCH to discuss this.

Participating in these focus groups has made me very aware of how fortunate the screen sector is in comparison to other Arts sectors. There are many creative organisations and individual artists who are barely hanging on in the COVID environment. It was particularly poignant to hear of suicides in the music sector.

Another very clear reminder of the screen sector’s difference for me in these meetings was the fundamental blending of art and commerce that is central to our sector. Our art comes about as the result of tens or hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars in investment to generate a work. The annual budgets of NZ On Air at $150 million, NZFC at $26.4 million and with a New Zealand Screen Production Grant Budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars exhibit this.

In television, there’s no real tension between art and commerce. It’s a business. Everybody knows it. That’s not the case in film. Film still remains the domain of the auteur director, whether they are making an art house film or a Hollywood blockbuster.

Director Christopher Nolan has been given the authorial right by Warner Brothers to bet the bank on a cinema release with the $200 million film Tenet. Why?

Nolan exhibited his artistic talent with his first film Following. His second feature, Memento, on a $9 million-dollar budget grossed $40 million worldwide. His Batman trilogy, Man of Steel, and Interstellar have generated billions. That’s why. Nolan is now an established blockbuster auteur.

Nolan’s debut feature Following was made on a budget of £3,000. Most of the cast and crew were friends of the director, and shooting took place on weekends over the course of a year.

Of course, not everybody who’s a director has the talent or will take the path of Christopher Nolan. But we should celebrate every New Zealand film that gets made whether its self-funded or the beneficiary of NZFC financing.

Sam Kelly and Guy Pigden, two of the latest DEGNZ members to finish films, took different paths to the same result.

Sam’s NZFC funded Savage is knocking it out of the park at the moment, having taken over a million dollars at the box office in two weeks. Guy’s film Older, funded through Pledge Me, had its official premiere last weekend, and is available to stream on Prime Video. Streamer reviews are looking good too.

As well, we have DEGNZ member directors Armagan Ballantyne in production on her sophomore feature Nude Tuesday, Michelle Saville on debut feature Millie Lies Low restarting after a COVID shutdown, Linda Nicol wrapping up on her debut Poppy, and Leanne Pooley with feature documentary Girl On A Bridge, which has finished its cinema run and is now available online.

Even amidst these COVID-created tough times, we have much to celebrate with the success of our members in the feature film arena and the funding our sector’s received.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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NB: Anna Serner quotes extracted from a Nordisk Film & TV Fund article

 

Anna Serner, the CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, spoke at the Big Screen Symposium a couple of weeks ago on gender equity.

In the short time she has been at the Swedish Institute, she has essentially delivered gender parity in funding for feature film. By parity, that means that 50 per cent of films are written, directed and or produced by women. As in New Zealand now, it was the number of women directing films in Sweden where the numbers were poorest.

At the same time Serner strove for gender parity, she also strove for higher quality.

“Our strategy is basically to have high demands, and clear goals. We look for films that either can reach a high national audience or will go to international festivals. Ideally, we’d love to have both!”

This demand for quality saw an increase in rejections for funding applications from both men and women, rising from 80% ‘no’ to 90% ‘no’.

Serner’s approach upset men and women. The men because they felt it was harder to get funding. The women because they wanted to be considered “directors” rather than “women directors” and because their funding applications were still being rejected.

The quality focus is a very interesting aspect of the changes Serner has brought about. It is linked into a desire to project ‘Brand Sweden’ through film, which ties into the Swedish Government’s policy to project ‘Brand Sweden’ through four key profile areas: Society, Innovation, Creativity, Sustainability.

This from the Brand Sweden strategy document:

Countries are dependent on the esteem and confidence of the rest of the world in their competition for tourists, investors, talent and the attention of others. Sweden is a country with a good reputation, but the world is changing rapidly and competition for attention is growing. A strong image of Sweden abroad is important for achieving political objectives, promoting trade, attracting investment, tourists and talent, and encouraging cultural and scientific exchange.

The Swedish Film Institute has a very interesting matrix for deciding whether or not to fund film and help project Brand Sweden. It takes a four quadrant approach.

– Courtesy Anna Serner, Swedish Film Institute

 

Quadrants A, B and D are the successful quadrants. C is for the duds.

For New Zealand, the number of Admissions would halve as we are essentially 50% the size of Sweden. And if we looked at NZ films, in A you would have films with niche audiences with high critical acclaim, such as the recent Inland Road and Stray. Sitting at the upper end of both axis in B would be Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Let’s not talk about C. And in D you would probably find the latest Pork Pie.

Swedish independent filmmakers target A and B and with considerable success. They had three films in Cannes this year (we haven’t had one since Christine Jeff’s Rain, 17 years ago). The breakout hit The Square is a definite B, as would be another great Swedish film Force Majure, both by director Ruben Östlund.

For Anna Serner, the Swedish brand is equally important domestically as internationally.

“The Swedish brand is very highly regarded internationally but not enough at home. So we have to fight harder to get the films to reach the audience, by branding Swedish films better and having a greater diversity of voices.”

Brand New Zealand is definitely talked about in Business and in some aspects of Arts and Culture, the Venice Biennale being one example. But it’s not integrated into a cohesive strategy. And it’s not consciously focused on in our film output. It’s high time this was done.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

 

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Like most everyone else, I’ve been walking around with a smile on my face since Winston Peters decided which side of the seesaw to get on.

I’m not as rabidly dogmatic as many left of centre seem to be in the screen industry, but I do know that the social fabric of New Zealand society has been torn under National, the Arts have suffered, and it deeply disturbs me that we can’t swim in many of our waterways anymore.

I’ve read numerous articles online about what the change of government means for education, transport, trade, the economy, the environment and other sectors, but I haven’t seen anything yet on what it means for the Arts, and more particularly for the screen industry. So like everybody else, I’m going to postulate about some things.

Firstly, the minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage will be Grant Robertson, moving it far up the ladder from where it sat with Maggie Barry. Jacinda is passionate about the Arts and has been Labour’s Arts spokesperson, but won’t have the time this term to deal with it. I believe she’ll give the portfolio to Robertson, another strong Arts supporter, who himself will be busy with Finance. I’ll happily eat my words if Jacinda keeps it, though.

Second: the Hobbit Law. It’s goneburger. Labour outlined in its Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) the ability for employers or employees/unions to be able to begin negotiations on FPAs once a sufficient percentage within an industry call for one. Under The Hobbit Law, all workers in the screen industry are classified as contractors, cannot collectively bargain and are not subject to the minimum working wage requirement—all the antithesis of what Labour stands for. The Hobbit Law will go and it’s up to the guilds to make sure that happens and that we unify to seek sustainable careers in the screen industry.

Next, copyright for directors. The Copyright Act Review is underway. I put considerable effort into lobbying Jacinda directly about director copyright when she was the Opposition spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage. Director copyright is about sustainable careers, a touchpoint for Labour. Our chances on changing the copyright law are now slightly improved but will still need significant effort on our part. It’s not a big ticket item for government, but hopefully with Robertson we’ll have a more sympathetic ear and will be able to get to the other ministers who will count.

The other aspect of copyright is Google’s desire to see relaxed US Fair Use and Safe Harbours legislation enacted here, replacing our Fair Dealing regime that is more stringent and protects the intellectual property of creators better. They must have choked when Winston Peters said he was going with the Labour Party. Years of upfront and behind-the-scenes lobbying to swing National to their view just hit a major speed bump. But they had moved many beaureaucrats toward their line of thinking as well so we’re not off the hook yet. We still need to fight hard to keep Fair Dealing in the face of Google’s enormous financial muscle.

Then there’s public service TV. Radio New Zealand will be transformed into Radio NZ + as promised, giving us a digital platform that will deliver more quality reporting and investigative journalism, Maori, Pasifika and other diverse community content, as well as education and entertainment for children. How the additional $38 million will be spread between the proposed independent Public Media Funding Commissioner and NZ On Air funding is unclear, but it would seem that anything that falls under the remit of the new commissioner that currently is being funded by NZ On Air will move to the new fund, thereby not increasing NZ On Air’s funding but giving it more money to play with in the commercially contestable realm, which will continue to be its responsibility.

Labour understands that the Arts can also generate revenue, and that the screen industry is a significant employer as well as a hotbed for commercial innovation, particularly at the higher end. Steven Joyce never liked the screen incentives although he was smart enough to know we needed them. They will stay, and everyone will await the outcome of the full Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment assessment of the screen incentives currently underway. We might see more production funding for the NZFC for NZ films, which didn’t increase under National although they did top up the Screen Production Grant for both NZ and international films. This funding increase would come out of the Ministry of Economic Development portolio, who is supported by MBIE, who essentially controls the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, at least for the moment. David Parker will be the new Minister for Economic Development.

What about a Minister of Broadcasting? I’m sure Amy Adams helped do away with this as the last minister because she viewed broadcasting as a sunset industry. Labour won’t reintroduce one because Broadcasting, which essentially means Free-to-air these days, no longer holds the sway it once did.

We have to give thought to our public broadcaster TVNZ. This is a vexing question. It’s not the public broadcaster it’s meant to be. Labour would probably flog it off if there were a buyer for it, but who would want it? Perhaps a US network like CBS who has just won its battle to acquire Australia’s Network 10 for US$167 million? Or Fox, who lost out to CBS? Or a private equity fund like Ironbridge who stepped in to save Mediaworks? I don’t think there will be a knight in shining armour for TVNZ, though, with Mediaworks sitting there as an abject lesson, essentially held up by its radio business.

I’m guessing that Labour will leave TVNZ to its own commercial devices after stripping it of its public service mandate, and using whatever dividend it generates to help fund public broadcasting. A more interesting question is what will happen to the public broadcasting and current affairs shows funded by NZ On Air currently on the commercial channels, including the Māori programming? I think they’ll be looking for a new partner to + with.

Will Māori get more money to play with in the screen sector? Yes, because of the work that’s been done by NZFC around their Māori strategy, but that was coming anyway. No for Te Māngai Pāho who already received a boost last year, although not for content. I’d personally prefer that Labour made te reo mandatory in schools through their education policy rather than funding TMP to revitalise the language via Māori Television, although Whakaata Māori would need to keep producing Māori language content until we all caught up.

I don’t believe NZFC and NZ On Air will be merged. We have a new NZFC CEO who will be on a three-year contract. And with other changes to come and those that have recently occurred in and around the funding bodies, it doesn’t make sense to pursue such an idea now.

Creative New Zealand is going to get some attention. Grant Robertson as Associate Spokesperson for Arts Culture & Heritage in a Radio NZ interview prior to the election outlined thoughts that will require some restructuring at CNZ to achieve Labour’s ideas around regional Arts development, more practioners at the top table, and how to ensure young and emerging artists get a fair crack at the funding pie.

In the same interview Robertson gave Labour’s perspective on the Arts:

“Arts are the window to the soul of our people and our country.”

Labour is supportive of the Arts. It wants to see more funding go to the Arts. But it will take time for this to happen and their main focus will be elsewhere for awhile. I don’t think any of us will complain too much if they give first attention to homelessness, mental health, the minimum wage and the housing crisis.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director