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When you look at the problems besetting the world, with amongst other things COVID-19 still rampant in many countries, the U.S. a powder keg ready to explode and war raging on a number of fronts, it’s hard not to look at little ole New Zealand, steal the Aussie phrase and say, we’re The Lucky Country. And in comparison to Australia’s, we have to say we’re the lucky screen industry.

No matter what your political persuasion, the New Zealand screen sector has been blessed with a prime minister who is also the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage. In Australia, Scott Morrison’s government abolished the Arts Department (our MCH) in December 2019 and merged it with Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Development.

The Federal Government over there has resisted calls for a nation-wide industry stimulus package. In New Zealand, meanwhile, the response to COVID has been:

  • $7.9 million for Careers Support for Creative Jobseekers
  • $70 million over three years for a Creative Arts Recovery and Employment Fund
  • $60 million over three years for a Cultural Innovation Fund
  • $20 million for a Cultural Capability Fund
  • $16.5 million for a New Zealand Music Recovery Fund
  • $16.5 million top up for New Zealand On Air

All this is in addition to other funding for the Culture and Heritage sector announced in the budget. And we are all waiting with bated breath for a stimulus package that will have funding specifically for the screen sector.

When it comes to screen workers, a high percentage of workers here quickly received the wage subsidy. In Oz, the response was slow and according to a just released Australian Directors Guild survey, nearly 50% of their members do not qualify for the Australian Government’s Job Keeper (Wage Subsidy) or Job Seeker (Unemployment Benefit).

Fingers crossed we have at least contained if not eliminated the Coronavirus. This has allowed our domestic soap, small crew projects and this week, our first film back into production. We have 56 international personnel allowed into the country through a special immigration channel, under managed quarantine at Wellington’s Museum Hotel and ready to kick start Avatar back into life and kick off another still-secret film.

With other international projects also likely to start shortly and NZ On Air expected to fund a considerable amount of drama from the recent round, we could well find ourselves back in the situation we were in at the beginning of the year with a dearth of experienced crew and international productions poaching crew off each other with offers of higher rates. Without a Trans-Tasman bubble in place, we certainly won’t be bringing crew in to fill the high demand here as was happening before.

Australia is also getting ready to swing back into production with their Health & Safety Standard & Protocols just released. However, they are faced with a continued blanket suspension of commercial free-to-air content quotas, which their producers’ organisation, SPA, feels smothers commissioning demand at a time when their industry needs it more than ever.

At the Guild, we are feeling lucky too, as we rapidly return to the new normal. Across the last two months we have been running a considerable number of Zoom and or Facebook Live workshops and sessions because of COVID. But this Friday we are holding our first in-person session with the first of five DEGNZ Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator workshops for 2020. We do though need your continued support because as an organisation we haven’t escaped unscathed, understandably, with financial membership down because of the pandemic.

With domestic tourism now key to our tourism sector’s survival and location production an important contributor to transport, food and accommodation providers, we have an opportunity to help out and at the same time see how lucky a country we really are.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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The New Zealand International Film Festival is upon us again. And there’s an even bigger selection of New Zealand films on offer, both feature-length and short, than I’ve encountered before—18 offerings, four of which are made up of programmes of short films. This is a fantastic selection—a high number from DEGNZ member directors and editors.

As Bill Gosden, the festival director pointed out in his speech celebrating the 50th birthday of the festival, it couldn’t have existed without the passion of film lovers who have nurtured it to the point where it has become what NZIFF is today—a truly great International film festival, showcasing the best of New Zealand and international film.

As always I encourage you to get along and watch films to encourage independent filmmaking everywhere.

In other news, Clare Curran is certainly the minister who keeps on giving, unfortunately not so much in the funding realm. The latest in the Radio NZ saga is a measly $4.5 million dollars to RNZ from the $15 million in the May Budget allocation for public media. NZ On Air gets just $4 million, while a new Innovation Fund to be jointly managed by Radio NZ and NZ On Air gets the lion’s share at $6 million.

It must be disturbing for Curran to hear from chair Michael Stiassny of the Ministerial Advisory Group she appointed that not even they support a fully funded RNZ+ television station. What you get—or not—for the price of a cup of coffee.

In a related development, Head of NZ On Air Jane Wrightson responded to an article in Newsroom by Dr Bryce Edwards of Victoria Univeristy, who singled out our current dual funding model of contestable and fully-funded public broadcasting for criticism. In her reply on the same platform Wrightson said that “In the 21st century media landscape it’s highly unlikely that one media provider model will fit all, and so a combination of ring-fenced and contestable funding is a clever response by a small country where media cost structures are always under pressure.”

There are supporters and detractors of the dual funding model approach. Whatever your opinion on the matter, I think we all need to acknowledge the incredible work NZ On Air has done in seeking to adapt to the rapidly changing screen industry while being incredibly underfunded.

Thankfully, we now see broadcasters slowly being willing to take risks with the arrival on air of Taika’s and Jemaine’s Wellington Paranormal, and two new dramas commissioned and screening at a later date: The Bad Seed out of South Pacific Pictures, and Fresh Eggs from Warners NZ. And we are starting to see more locally driven international efforts bear fruit with Screentime’s copro Scandi – NZ noir Straight Forward now in post and destined for TVNZ.

And talk about change, there sure as hell seems to be a lot going on at the Film Commission—a new pou whakahaere in the wonderful and talented Karen Te O Kahurangi Waaka-Tibble, new job opportunities with the departures of Development Executive Karin Williams and Investment Executive Chris Moll, and obviously a change of approach that always comes with a new CEO, this time with the arrival of Annabelle Sheehan who has been with us seven months now. Watch this space for more to come.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

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The New Zealand Film Commission has just announced its Te Rautaki Māori strategy and that’s a great achievement, even though it comes 15 years after New Zealand On Air’s—better late than never.

It’s no secret that Māori films are New Zealand’s most successful both domestically and internationally. Pākēha producers certainly cottoned onto this a long time ago—John Barnett with Whale Rider, Robin Scholes with Once Were Warriors, and more recently Matthew Metcalfe with The Dead Lands.

There are a number of new initiatives to help drive the strategy with an ongoing fund of up to $2.5 million in investment for dramatic feature films made in Te Reo Māori, by Māori filmmakers; a Te Reo development fund; devolved funding supporting internships, mentoring and professional placements for Māori filmmakers; and rangatahi development in the form of wananga, workshops and programmes for young Māori creatives.

Additionally, a one-off $2 million investment for dramatic features in any genre where the director and at least one other key creative is Māori, which some critics might say is there to allow pākēha to keep dipping their toes in the Māori pie.

Criticism aside, Te Rautaki is a significant stake in the ground by the Film Commission that goes along with the changes they propose internally to address representation, protocols and capacity and capability.

Te Rautaki is warmly welcomed by my colleagues at Ngā Aho Whakaari who I’ve been speaking to. And by DEGNZ.

NZFC must also be complimented for continuing to address gender inequity with the announcement of the 125 Fund.

The fund is open to dramatic features in any genre and is offering an investment of $1.25 million each for up to two projects where the director and at least one other key creative is a woman. Critics would also undoubtedly say that this keeps men in the game, too.

With the Budget soon to be announced by the Government, we can only hope that additional funding will be allocated to NZFC as well as to NZ On Air and Radio NZ. Rather than cutting into the essentially static funding the Film Commish has been operating on in the last few years (Screen Production Grant aside), it would be nice to know that these dedicated initiatives are being resourced with new funds rather than taking from existing.

Congratulations New Zealand Film Commission on these efforts! We look forward to the films that will come from them.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director