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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

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I’ve been around on this planet for quite a while now and I’ve never experienced a crazier time.

Uncertainty seems to be the biggest challenge, at a personal, work and global level, whether it’s war, climate change, the future of the New Zealand screen industry, or just being able to connect with family and friends in person.

I have a hobby that keeps me sane, allows me to put worries aside and just focus on something that both fully occupies my mind and gives me joy… for a while.

There is one thing that seems pretty certain though, and that is that we are going to be living with COVID. Numerous friends and colleagues have come down with it. I fortunately have not so far. Nor has anybody else at the Guild.

After a long period of online engagement, we are shifting our strategy around workshops, just as the Government is also changing the boundaries around events and gatherings. We’ll be holding them more regularly in person. We’ll use RAT tests as one means to help minimise spread, and stay abreast of COVID developments so that we can readjust rapidly again if necessary.

The NZFC is also looking to re-engage with the world in a shift to a new normal. They will people an office at the Cannes Film Festival and Market this May following a three-year ban on international travel. As well, NZFC CEO David Strong and some staff will take a marketing mission to LA shortly to leverage off the success of Jane Campion’s The Power Of The Dog, seeking to attract more international production to New Zealand.

The attractiveness of New Zealand to international productions relies in large part on the New Zealand Screen Production Grant incentive. And that incentive along with all other Government investment in the screen sector is up for review as I wrote about last newsletter. Please speak up when the times comes, so that Government hears your views.

Both international and domestic productions in New Zealand are now accustomed to living with COVID. Testing, crew replacement for illness, temporary shutdowns and other adaptive measures are all part of screen production life here. Thankfully, a new round of screen production recovery funding from MCH has become available, so that many NZ productions have a fallback or financial guarantee for production to go ahead—that nagging uncertainty at least for a time, in abeyance.

Many other things on our plate at the Guild remain in various states of flux, however. The interminable delay of the Copyright Act Review continues. The on-again off-again nature of the Screen Industry Workers Bill is… on-again for present. The Reform of Vocational Education on the industry side has slowed down while Toi Mai, the new Workforce Development Council whose responsibility includes the screen sector, finds its feet.

One thing we can be sure of, though, the TVNZ – RNZ merger will go ahead… maybe.

 

Tui Ruwhiu
Executive Director