New Zealand Film Is Alive And Well

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I watched Loren Taylor’s directorial debut The Moon Is Upside Down the other night. For me, it’s a well-crafted film with quirky characters, very smart dialogue (both scripted and improvised), and comedy and depth in abundance, woven into an intriguing story.

It was a 125 film, being a film financed at $1.25 million through an initiative for female filmmakers instigated by former NZFC CEO Annabelle Sheehan, and funded as part of an initiative to celebrate New Zealand’s 125 years of universal suffrage.

This kind of film is extremely difficult to get financed these days. There are no A-list stars although Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, and now Robyn Malcolm who appear in the film amongst other stellar cast have excellent international profiles.

It’s a quintessentially Kiwi film with a very European sensibility—understandable when Loren cites Before the Rain by Macedonian director Milcho Manchevski and German director Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann amongst her inspirations.  It’s no wonder then that Moon was selected for the highly regarded Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia, where Loren won Best First Feature. But it wasn’t easy getting it produced.

One of the things that allowed the film to be made according to producer Philippa Campbell, who was in the Q & A after the screening, was that Moon didn’t have the typical NZFC requirement on it to have an international sales agent who was putting up some funding through a minimum guarantee.

Finding a sales agent willing to put up money today for a New Zealand film is a difficult thing to do. They don’t want drama unless you’ve got A-List international stars. And even then it can be tough. But they do want genre. Or something like a name director or an indigenous story, preferably with genre elements, that elevates the film above the myriad out there clamouring for funding. The international market is exceedingly tough for indie films, and all NZ films are considered indie, no matter the genre.

Moon is a genre film in that it’s categorised a comedy on IMDB, although it’s a comedy drama in my view as it’s a comedy with heart and soul, more akin to an art house film than something like the slapstick Cocaine Bear. And it’s in art-house film where NZ has excelled in the past, whether it’s Christine Jeff’s Rain, our last film to get into Cannes, or the high hopes held for the recent New Zealand – Australia coproduction Went Up The Hill, directed by ex-pat Kiwi Samuel Van Grinsven, which has been positioned as a horror/thriller with seemingly arthouse smackings. We have in the past, and do now, though, have genre chops, too.

NZFC CEO Annie Murray has praised Went Up The Hill as a film deserving of NZFC investment. She has said that NZFC won’t look just at box office potential when deciding to fund films—films with A-list festival potential are also worthy of NZFC funding. She’s also told us that market interest, being distributors and sales agents (and maybe streamers) who are willing to put up money because of potential commercial returns will have a key role in deciding which films get funded. And she’s highlighted the importance of audience eyeballs on our films. There’s a seeming dichotomy here, so I look forward to the funding model being revealed that allows for a breadth of New Zealand screen storytelling that can generate critical acclaim, box office success, or both.

In the meantime, I’ll relish the experience of having watched The Moon Is Upside Down, because it tells me at least that New Zealand film is alive and well.


Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

Last updated on 9 May 2024