Measuring Success

26 June 2015

With the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) just around the corner, I thought it interesting to look at what parts festivals and box office play in the working lives of directors and editors.

While television does find a place in some festivals, it’s more usually accorded accolades at awards ceremonies such as the Emmys and the New York Festivals Awards. And in a way that’s understandable. The programme has already found its audience in being broadcast. Audience success in TV is measured in NZ by a little black box that sits in 400 or so living rooms. Rate well and you’re in. Rate poorly, you’re out.

Film, whether short or feature, needs critical acclaim and to find an audience, and festivals are an important way to do both.

I produced a short film in 2013 directed by Poata Eruera and edited by DEGNZ president Peter Roberts. It had its world premiere at imagineNative in Toronto, and has been seen at festivals including in France, Greece, Hawaii, Florida and Tahiti. It secured a slot in Ngā Whanaunga in the NZIFF, which saw it screen in the main centres, and then do the NZIFF regional tour. It’s recently been selected for a festival in Montreal, is up for consideration for a tour of Australia and will be broadcast on Maori Television this year. I don’t write this to blow my own trumpet. Rather, to highlight the point of how festivals are finding audiences for the film and getting it in front of them in theatres, for which it was made. And perhaps more importantly, pointed out how the selection in Toronto triggered a post production grant from the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) that allowed us to do a Dolby 5.1 sound mix and deliver as a Digital Cinema Package, enhancing the theatre experience. Without this festival exposure, I would be left to putting it online and trying to drum up eyeballs in competition with the billions of other videos in that space. Even worse, a film made for the big screen would be viewed on a computer screen or smaller. Fortunately, imagineNATIVE was one of the 28 A List Festivals that NZFC currently recognizes and will provide support to filmmakers for.

For directors and editors, this A list is what separates the wheat from the chaff for your film, and for directors particularly, for your career.

With more than 5000 festivals listed on the largest film submission website Withoutabox, only about 100 have any real cachet, and within that number, a shifting combination of 30 or so rate in the NZFC’s eyes.

For features, Sundance, Cannes, Toronto, Venice and Berlin are primarily where you need to go, although a small number of others count, particularly for documentary and genre. Otherwise, you’d better have box office success. Around $1 million in domestic box office puts you in a good place, and if you can do $1 million in local currency in Australia, the UK, and or the US, you’ve got an indie hit on your hands.

Some examples of relatively recent New Zealand successes:

  • Mt Zion, directed by Te Arepa Kahi and edited by Kahi and Paul Maxwell earned $1.3 million in NZ. Its festival success sat outside the majors for features, and included Mill Valley, Hawaii, ImagineNATIVE and Hofer Filtage.
  • The Orator, directed by DEGNZ member Tusi Tamasese and edited by Simon Price did a respectable $767,000 at the NZ$ box office, but more importantly gained acceptance into Venice and Sundance, an indicator of the vitally important “critical acclaim.”
  • The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls, the documentary feature directed by DEGNZ member Leeane Pooley and edited by DEGNZ member Tim Woodhouse, racked up $1.8 million at the NZ box office, got into Toronto and a number of other good festivals and won multiple awards.

Without this kind of success—critical acclaim and or good box office returns—particularly for the two narrative drama directors, they could have become roadside casualties on the NZFC highway of first time feature film directors who never made another film. Each of these three talents, deservedly, has gone on to make further films with NZFC funding.

While international success is very important, local festivals like NZIFF, Show Me Shorts and Doc Edge are good for you and your film, too. They are highly credible internationally, put New Zealand stories in front of New Zealand audiences, and allow your film to be seen with some of the best of international offerings.

DEGNZ celebrates the success of its member directors and editors who this year have found a place on the highly competitive NZIFF film roster:

Documentary features: directors Costa Botes with Act of Kindness, Rebecca Tansley with Crossing Rachmaninoff, Shirley Horrocks with Tom Who? The Enigma of Tom Kriesler, and editors Prisca Bouchet with Ever the Land, Cushla Dillon with The Price of Peace, and Costa Botes with his film.

Narrative features: director Jason Lei Howden and editor Jeff Hurrell with Deathgasm.

Shorts: directors Rowena Baines with Dancing in the Dark, Hamish Bennett with Tihei, Ivan Barge with Madam Black, Alyx Duncan with The Tide Keeper, Giacomo Martelli with Coral, and Jackie Van Beek with The Lawnmower Bandit. (Apologies to those we didn’t pick up or receive notifications for.

For all of them, we wish success in the future as well.


Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Last updated on 12 March 2018