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Ni Hao Taiwan

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The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) took an official delegation to China and Taiwan in June of this year, and I was fortunate to be invited along to Taipei for the Taiwan leg as the ED of DEGNZ.

There was a strong indigenous focus to the visit with the New Zealand Commercial Investment Office (our government’s official representation there) and the NZFC organising a Matariki Festival with a number of events for the Taiwanese Film Industry, and public screenings of some New Zealand films.

On show were Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Born to Dance, and My Wedding and Other Secrets, with director Tammy Davis and DEGNZ board member and director Roseanne Liang along to introduce and do Q & A’s for their films. Also attending were writer and director Michael Bennett, representing Ngā Aho Whakaari, and playwright and screenwriter Briar Grace-Smith.

Taiwan has 11 officially recognised indigenous tribes and there is a very strong link between the Taiwanese indigenous peoples and Māori, with everyone acknowledging whakapapa through our DNA connections. This connection has received official acknowledgement with the New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New Zealand signing a document entitled “Arrangement on Cooperation on Indigenous Issues”. This will establish cultural and “people-to-people” connections between Taiwan’s indigenous peoples and New Zealand Māori in order to promote mutual understanding and friendly relations.

This was my second visit to Taiwan, following my time there in October of last year to attend the Asian Producers Network conference. I was once again struck by the friendliness of the people, particularly the strong and positive response by the indigenous locals to anything and anyone Māori. There was even a Māori cultural group made up of ex-pats out of Hong Kong to give the various events some distinctive Aotearoa New Zealand flavour.

As part of the effort to develop bonds between Taiwan and New Zealand, the NZFC and the Taipei Film Commission announced a Professional Sreenwriters Exchange. Under the exchange one professional screenwriter from Taiwan will travel to New Zealand and one professional screenwriter from New Zealand will travel to Taiwan for at least a month, in order to strengthen cultural ties and promote greater cooperation between the film industries on both sides.

The exchange is intended to occur on an annual basis and is aimed at applicants who have experience writing a minimum of one feature film script that has been produced as a feature-length film. They also need to have either direct personal experience or a strong interest in Māori culture and/or the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan.

I lived in Japan for a long time and have visited China a couple of times and many Southeast Asian countries repeatedly. Of them all, I feel that Taiwan is at the moment perhaps the most proactively open to doing coproductions with New Zealand. While the budgets there aren’t big with US$1 million being the average film budget and an almost purely commercial focus on box office, Taiwan I think offers great opportunity for filmmakers who want to work with Asian partners … with the right story.

On our delegation were some producers who are already engaged with Taiwan on projects, looking to leverage off a Taiwan-NZ connection, or working with Taiwan to access Mainland China.

Official activity aside, Taipei has great architecture, galleries and museums, outdoor activities and fabulous food. And wouldn’t you know it, after delegates found various ways to wing their way there via stopovers in Singapore, Hong Kong or Brisbane, Air New Zealand opened up direct flights to Taiwan after our visit.

I guess you can’t have it all.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

NZFC +

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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

 

Hello 2018!

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We’re into the year and we’ve got a significant period of change coming.

The Government’s first hundred days are up in two weeks and it has already made good progress or is about to in terms of tertiary education, housing, child poverty, mental health and other social issues. Yet, it’s in the area of workplace relations that progress had been slow, and understandably so because the shift will be significant. However, today the Government announced a slew of employment law changes in favour of workers. Labour’s Fair Pay Agreements, which are still to come are potentially contentious with a fear that they’ll bring strikes and economic decline. Labour’s adamant they won’t.

In regard to the screen sector, following the attention-grabbing announcement that the Hobbit Law would be repealed, the government scrambled quickly to assure everyone that it did not want to affect attraction of international production to New Zealand. Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway announced the formation of a working group to consider options for replacing the legislation. The Film Industry Working Group will meet shortly and DEGNZ is a member. So for the moment,  film workers will not be able to collectively bargain, although the government fully intends for those workers to have that right.

Clare Curran confirmed at NZ On Air’s year-end celebration in December that Radio NZ will get a significant funding increase of around $20 – 30 million, and that NZ On Air and a new overarching public media funding commission would share the remainder of the $38 million fund, intended primarily for news and current affairs programming. This should start to flow this year.

The commitment has drawn the ire of Mediaworks CEO Ian Anderson, who complains it will weaken media diversity and hasten the end of Free To Air TV. Instead he suggests, turn TV1 into a true public broadcaster—Talk about flogging a dead horse. He also suggests that TVNZ has the TV business talent that Radio NZ does not. Many in the industry would think that puts Radio NZ in a good place not a bad one. And try telling that to former Maori Television CFO Alan Witherington and former MTS Head of Programming, and TV news and current affairs producer Carol Hirshfeld, both of who hold top management jobs at Radio NZ.

There’s been no mention of any additional funding for the New Zealand Film Commission, but we have to hope that NZFC would have put in a bid for additional funds for 2018/2019. The $13 million NZFC has to fund local production for 2017/2018 and the annual $16 million in Screen Production Grant funding for NZ films for the next four years won’t go far.

A major change at NZFC in 2018 is new CEO Annabelle Sheehan. An educator and bureaucrat with a production background, Sheehan can be expected to bring a different approach to the way the organisation operates from her predecessor producer Dave Gibson. As former head of the highly regarded Australian Film, TV and Radio School (AFTRS), we can expect she’ll have strong opinions on talent development. She will still though be reporting to the National Government-appointed NZFC board, and they were after all the ones she had to convince to get the job. We can expect Labour’s hand will come into play as board members on both NZFC’s and NZ ON Air’s boards reach their ends of terms and new appointments are made.

One of the big shifts at NZ On Air will happen in February or March when they announce their new drama strategy. After the incredible noise generated around the Filthy Rich and Dirty Laundry funding, primarily by Duncan Grieve, and the constant chatter around digital funding and the lack of support of emerging content makers, again very attributable to Mr Grieve, NZ On Air went into a major reassessment of scripted programming. No doubt the cracks that opened will widen. Interesting to note another change in Grieve stepping down as editor of Spinoff to focus on managing the company’s business, which includes two new TV shows.

On the international scene it’s a bloodbath. We are effectively saying goodbye to Hollywood studios and hello to high-tech companies. Once all the mergers and acquisitions are done, it’s likely Disney, who recently acquired Fox from Rupert Murdoch, will be the only one left standing and it’ll be competing with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, and Google/YouTube. China funding in the US entertainment industry has dried up but the massive players in the Chinese online space are surging. Get used to saying Baidu, Tencent, iQiyi, Youku, Tudou and Sohu. News out of Sundance so far sees only one major acquisition going to new players Neon and AGBO, with a US$10 million spend to acquire all rights for Assasination Nation. Netflix and Amazon have yet to acquire anything.

It’s not looking any prettier for NZ film. The arthouse market where NZ film sits has dried up except for Europe, and its even tough there. Amazon was shedding a ray of light for independent film, particularly US indies, because of Ted Hope, who is a major supporter of auteur filmmaking. But online media intelligence site FilmTake has just reported that Amazon is moving away from small indies and into the $50 million budget space. And Netflix is supposedly proving a harder door to open now that it’s well established with a solid roster of content suppliers it already has relationships with.

On the domestic front it’s hard not conclude that the Australasian distribution system for NZ film is broken. Sure Wilderpeople and some of the more popular docos are still getting over the $1 million mark and small films like the recent Waru are punching well above their budget weight, but if you’re not making overtly commercial films you’re chucked out in two weeks to make way for the next Hollywood blockbuster, so there’s no chance for word of mouth to build up and grow an audience. That is if you can get theatrical distribution in the first place. This is a problem that needs to be addressed. Catering to niche audiences with good light entertainment as the Three Wise Cousins team is doing with their latest self-funded romcom Hibiscus & Ruthless is one model for the way forward.

On the guild front things are a little steadier. We have a lot of big picture work in front of us with the Film Industry Working Group, Copyright and the Code of Ethics to focus on. With professional development we will be running a full programme of training workshops for directors and editors, introducing a drama editor attachment scheme to complement the TV drama director attachment initiative we will do again this year, and putting one more intake through the Emerging Women Filmmakers Incubator. We are also planning further events specifically targeted at young creators. To round things off we’ll have our regular networking events where you can hear speakers and connect with like-minded screen industry professionals.

DEGNZ is here to work on your behalves, so make yourselves known to us whether it’s for assistance or just to say hello. We appreciate your support both through membership and patronage at our events and look forward to connecting with you in 2018.

Finally our thanks go out to the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ On Air, Vista Foundation and our other supporters Dominion Law, Resene, Seresin Wines, Pieter Holl & Associates, Event Cinemas, Reading Cinemas, Rialto Cinemas and Hoyts who support us in supporting you.

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director