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Undoubtedly obvious to many of you who read this column regularly, but for those who don’t, I’ll point out that I monitor the happenings in the screen industry in Australia as one possible bellwether for New Zealand’s screen sector.

A trend there that has become blindingly clear from doing so is the incredible volume of commissioning going on in Australia by streamers. Unfortunately, this hasn’t been replicated in New Zealand.

So it was with interest that I read the story by screen ‘rag’ if.com.au about veteran screen journalist Sandy George’s Paper on the need for cultural value and Australianness to be the primary driver of screen funding for film and drama.

From the article:

George argues if there is nothing recognisably Australian on the screen, it carries little cultural value. It is ‘Australianness’ that excites local viewers, and cultural value is the main reason why taxpayer funding underpins drama production.”

From George’s paper:

“It’s time to be very clear that Screen Australia is there for culture.”

“Depending on economics to deliver cultural value is arse about.”

One underlying reason for George’s issue-raising is the homogenising of ‘Australian content’ due to the foreign money, projects and commissioning flowing into the country—its Australian distinctiveness is being lost.

Another is the convenient obfuscation that lumps foreign production in Australia together with Australian production, and calling it all Australian production. This makes it look like the screen industry there is rosier than it actually is.

At a time when Nude Tuesday, Whina, the soon to be released Muru, Good Grief and Creamerie amongst others are putting a distinctive Aotearoa NZ stamp onto screen content, you’d think we wouldn’t have to worry about loss of our identity.

But then, we haven’t been getting the volumes of international projects and commissioning that our cuzzies across the Tassie have.

However, George’s statement that Screen Australia is there for culture is very pertinent for us. Some argue that the New Zealand Film Commission and the Government have been gradually losing their ways on this front, including depending on economics to deliver cultural value when it comes to screen. The Screen Sector Investment Review, now underway, which is focused very particularly on the New Zealand Screen Production Grant (NZ’s version of the Aussie Producer Offset) and whether or not it’s delivering for New Zealand and our creatives, is therefore very timely.

Another point George makes is how exceptional cultural value in projects delivers exceptional Australian talents, the likes of Baz Luhrmann and George Miller, who then go on to deliver exceptional economic value. In our case, the likes of Peter Jackson, Jane Campion and Taika Waititi. She questions what and how screen talent development is conducted and focused to ensure these kinds of people come along—something we ourselves could do much better.

The article here and George’s paper here make interesting reading. And food for thought about how we could be doing things better from here on in.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director

The 69th Sydney Film Festival (June 8-19) will be back in cinemas across 12 days and nights, promising to showcase the greatest, strangest and most exciting works cinema has to offer, with a number of DEGANZ members featuring.

Anthology film We Are Still Here will open SFF as well as have its World Premiere. The film is an unparalleled First Nations celebration, interweaving eight stories by 10 directors from Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. That includes DEGANZ members Tim Worrall, Chantelle Burgoyne and board member Renae Maihi.

Conceived as a cinematic response to the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival in this region, We Are Still Here is a poetic and powerful statement of resistance and survival. The other directors involved are Beck Cole, Danielle MacLean, Dena Curtis, Richard Curtis, Miki Magasiva, Mario Gaoa and Tracey Rigney. We Are Still Here is a joint indigenous initiative between Screen Australia’s First Nations Department and the NZ Film Commission.

Nude Tuesday is set to have its World Premiere at the festival as well, featured in the Special Presentations programme. Directed by our member Armagan Ballantyne and written by fellow DEGANZ member Jackie van Beek, the unique comedy, filled with eccentric characters and a made up language, follows a conservative middle-aged couple who try to rescue their failing marriage by attending  a new-age relationship retreat.

Directed and co-written by DEGANZ member Michelle Savill, Millie Lies Low, will have its Australian Premiere at SFF. Praised at the Berlin International Film festival and SXSW, Michelle’s dark comedy is a thoughtful exploration of anxiety and imposter syndrome.

Another Kiwi film having its Australian Premiere is biopic Whina. Directed by James Napier Robertson and Paula Whetu Jones, Whina follows the tumultuous personal journey and unshakeable inner strength that led Whinā to become one of Aotearoa’s most formidable leaders.

Congratulations to our members and safe travels to those heading across the ditch to attend!

Learn more at the Sydney Film Festival website.

DEGANZ presents an LGBTQ+ Film Festival Directors Q&A

On June 7, join us for a panel livestream with film festival directors James Wooley (Frameline San Francisco), Andrea Coloma (MIX COPENHAGEN) and Spiro Economopoulos (Melbourne Queer Film Festival).

Being some of the oldest Queer film festivals in the world, each have their own rich histories and stories of how they came to be. In this panel, moderated by filmmaker Kayne Ngātokowha Peters (John the Baptist), our international guests will discuss how their festivals began; the social, political and creative landscape of gay cinema; and how New Zealand filmmakers can submit their films and join their global communities.

Towards the end, we will welcome questions from our online audience.

WHEN: Tue 7 June 2022, 7pm – 8:30pm NZST
WHERE: DEGANZ YouTube Channel

Free live streamed event

RSVP/Follow the event on Facebook

Panellists:

James Wooley (he/him/his) is the Executive Director of Frameline San Francisco, which was founded in 1977 and is the longest-running, largest and most widely recognised LGBTQ+ film exhibition event in the world. Originally from Australia, James has over 10 years’ experience working on over 20 large-scale film festivals, including Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane International Film Festivals.

Andrea Coloma (she/her) is the festival director and programmer for MIX COPENHAGEN, one of the oldest LGBTQ+ film festivals in the world, founded in 1986, as well as the leading LGBTQ+ film festival in the Nordics. Alongside MIX COPENHAGEN, Andrea has been involved in different projects from the development of Norrebro Pride in Copenhagen, which centres QTBIPOCs, to starring on the Danish TV web series, Pain in the Ass (Ondt i Roven) by Rikke Kolding which has been referred to as a “queer game change in Danish TV”.

Spiro Economopoulos (he/him) is the Program Director for the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, one of the largest and oldest LGBTI+ film festivals in the southern hemisphere, beginning in 1991. During his seven years in the role, Spiro has lead the curatorial vision of the festival to enlighten, entertain and celebrate, while delivering a world-class queer film festival.

Award-winning editor and DEGANZ member Luke Haigh has joined ARC EDIT, a boutique post-production company, for Australian representation.

Luke joins a diverse roster of editors at ARC. His editorial range in film, TV and commercial work makes him a “perfect addition” according to Peter Sciberras, a fellow editor on the roster.

The easing of border restrictions between Aotearoa and Australia has allowed Luke, who is based out of Auckland, the availability to work from ARC’s Australian studios in Sydney or Melbourne as well as remotely.

Congratulations to Luke and the team at ARC, it will be exciting to see your future work and collaborations. You can view Luke’s previous work here.

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I’ve been watching the debates raging across the Tasman as the Austalian screen industry seeks to ensure the future of Australian content in the face of the realities of SVOD.

Research company Roy Morgan reported in March 2019 that nearly 14 million Australians now have access to some form of Pay TV/Subscription TV, up 11.8% on a year ago.

Netflix with over 11.2 million subscribers had growth on a year ago of 25.2%, with Australian-owned Stan at 2.6 million subscribers seeing a 45.2% increase.

YouTube Premium and Amazon Prime also had significant increases.

Australian broadcasting standards require all commercial free-to-air television licensees to broadcast an annual minimum transmission quota of 55 per cent Australian programming between 6 am and midnight. In addition, there are specific minimum annual sub-quotas for first-run Australian adult drama, documentary and children’s programs.

SVODs in Australia have no Australian content requirement.

Australian commercial broadcasters sought in 2017 to have the quota removed for Australian children’s content. The Australian screen industry united against this, decrying what they said would be the almost complete annihilation of Australian children’s programming.

Then in 2017 the Australian Directors’ Guild; Australian Writers’ Guild;  Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance and Screen Producers Australia joined together to launch the ‘Make It Australia’ campaign to lobby the Government for support for the sector in the wake of sustained funding cuts and changed viewing habits, which of course includes the rise of SVODs.

They called for no more cuts to SBS, the ABC and Screen Australia; a raising of tax incentives for Australian TV and foreign productions; a cementing of the commercial free-to-air Australian content quota at 55%; and new regulations for Subscription Video on Demand (SVOD) providers.

The Australian Government launched in 2017 an Australian and Children’s Content Review.

In March of 2019, the Senate Committee released its Review paper. Among the recommendations was a call to force streaming services such as Netflix and Stan (and Amazon and any others who might enter the space) to spend a minimum 10 per cent of income earned in Australia on original Australian content. They would also be obliged to promote that content to their subscribers. The other recommendations:

  • The current quota system being preserved.
  • Examining other Terms of Trade provisions and implementing them.
  • Introducing a single Producer Offset of 40%.*
  • Ceasing recognising New Zealand content as Australian.**
  • Increasing the Location Offset to 30%
  • Decoupling the Location and Post, Digital and Visual Effects (PDV) Offset.
  • Platform Neutral Location and ODV Offsets.

*The Producer Offset, Australia’s version of the NZ Screen Production Grant, sits at 20% for TV.

**This refers to Project Blue Sky, which allowed NZ content to be recognised as Australian content because of the Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement between the two countries.

What did they Australian Government do in response? It allowed streamers that operate behind a paywall access to the production incentive for content they make in Australia, which of course includes international productions shooting there.

“The Government’s policy announcement is inexplicable and one-dimensional given how many times our local sector has called for urgent intervention”, said Austrlian Directors Guild CEO, Kingston Anderson.

“Our screen incentives need to be updated across the board, not just those that apply to international production. This decision shows a tremendous lack of confidence in the ability of Australians to tell our stories in our own voices.”

You are possibly wondering why at this point I am so wrapped up in what’s going on in Australia? It’s because I feel it’s clearly indicative of what we face and have essentially been ignoring till now. The 10-year screen strategy recently called for by the NZ Government is a chance to address the many problems the onslaught of foreign content and SVODs are having on the NZ screen industry. We only have to look across the Tassie for some insights and thoughts on how to address the issues.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Exeuctive Director