In the late oughts, filmmaker Peter Jackson before he became ‘Sir’, and Australian film academic David Court, were asked to do a review of the New Zealand Film Commission. They delivered their report to then Minister or Arts, Culture and Heritage, Chris Finlayson. It’s 87 pages long and makes good reading. You’ll find it here.
With the arrival of the new NZFC CEO David Strong on 12 July, it’s a good time for us all to look back before he sets the direction to take the organisation forward, so I decided to pull the report out and go over it again.
The Jackson-Court Report was commissioned at a time when there was a lot of criticism about the way that the NZFC operated; very similar to the environment the organisation finds itself in today. In the opening pages of the report, the two highlight a few key areas of concern about the NZFC, with accompanying commentary. Some would say not a lot has changed:
People described an organisation out of sync with the industry it serves.
‘There’s almost an us and them attitude. It’s death to creativity.’
There is a feeling that increased creative interference results in less successful films.
‘Creative interference has expanded until now it resembles micro-management.’
A number of people described the Commission as operating like a Hollywood studio but without the accountability of a studio – ‘without anyone having their job on the line’, as one producer put it.
The staff should be empowered and accountable.
Many people felt the Commission was trying to do too much.
There was a sense that too many resources were being diverted away from the core functions and from the films that most merited the Commission’s support.
‘It would be great if people felt they could approach the Film Commission and say, ‘I’m not fitting into a box’, without there being all these schemes. I don’t want to be in a box.’
‘We need a model at the Commission that’s very open, very flexible, rather than narrow and controlling.’
‘They’re so used to being badgered, that there’s a culture of not believing, of skepticism.’
And badgered the Film Commission is; by almost everyone who gets a ‘No’, and those who think they know better.
It’s easy to bag the Film Commish and we all do it, because they commission and editorialise as well as fund, unlike NZ On Air who has the broadcaster doing a good chunk of the dirty work for them.
Writing on the impending review at the time, journalist Gordon Campbell called out industry critics in a post on his Werewolf blog:
Sure, by all means, the NZFC should listen to the existing players in the industry. But let’s hope that the review will treat some of the existing film-makers as being part of the problem, as well as being part of the solution. Because it is not only the bureaucrats who need shaking up.
How much has changed and how much has remained the same since Jackson and Court reviewed the NZFC would be a good place for David Strong to start when he takes up the job. The Report had a lot of sound advice and proposed a paradigm change that put filmmaking talent front and centre—and by this I mean writers – directors—describing an approach that was nurturing, not hindering—Exactly the role NZFC should play as we navigate an uncertain future for New Zealand film in the global market of today.