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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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As the first glimmer of dawn lights the sky and the promise of Level Two becomes more real, its time I stopped leaving all the communication to our ED Tui. He is doing an amazing job. Thank you, Tui. Tui and Tema, our events manager, are working as hard as ever but they have volunteered to take a pay cut till things improve and I thank them for that.

When I started in television (the 1970s), a New Zealand documentary tradition was being established by the NZBC – at that time the only player in town. The documentaries we were making reflected New Zealand’s preoccupations of the time. A major theme was ‘who are we?’ What defines a New Zealander? Culturally the country was in its adolescence and we spent a lot of time gazing in the mirror. A decade later we had matured. We were more self-confident and turned our attention outward. But from that time a number of qualities became attached to the idea of being a New Zealander – self-reliance, inventiveness (the number 8 wire cliché), love of the outdoors and sport. For me the value we Kiwis put above all others was ‘fairness’. We see ourselves as a just society that tries to treat people fairly. The phrase ‘a fair go’ is part of our lexicon. Now, thanks to our Prime Minister, we can add another value – kindness. The word resonated and we have embraced it.

Those two values are at the very heart of what our Guild is about. We are here to look after the well-being of our members. They are the values that drive everything we do. They are the reason we became a union. Perhaps as well as promoting ‘buy local’ to support the NZ economy, we should be pushing ‘watch local’ to support our industry!

So be fair, be kind and I reckon we should have a great party when we come out of lockdown.

Howard Taylor
President

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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