'A Good Kick Up the Clapperboard': The State of New Zealand Film and Television. (New Zealand in Focus)

By Lealand, Geoff | Metro Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

'A Good Kick Up the Clapperboard': The State of New Zealand Film and Television. (New Zealand in Focus)


Lealand, Geoff, Metro Magazine


SOME INTRODUCTORY REMARKS

More than ever before, talk about film and television--and local-this and local-that--occupies a significant space in the New Zealand public discourse. It is not just because of the enormous global success of the Peter Jackson-directed The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (with more success to come). We may not see again the hyperbole generated by the first film (when the capital city Wellington temporarily renamed itself 'Middle Earth'). but efforts to capitalize on LOTR continue.

AS A CONSEQUENCE OF efforts, it seems, the world's turning to New Zealand as a significant player in cultural production. Certainly, the LOTR has been instrumental in creating unprecedented employment opportunities for New Zealand crews, SFX developers and wardrobe designers--in addition, to political opportunism (the Labour Government created the grandiose position of Minister in Charge of The Lord of The Rings in 2001). It has drawn more attention to New Zealand as a site for off-shore productions; in September 2001, for example, the industry body Film New Zealand claimed it was '... helping up to thirty foreign productions a month with their planning ... We're the hottest production environment in the world at the moment.' (1)

In contrast, the situation for 'on-shore' (local) film production is less rosy. The 2002 New Zealand Film Awards were cancelled because there were not enough viable entries, and Peter Jackson recently declared in the primetime current affairs programme Assignment; 'Forget The Lord of the Rings! The New Zealand film industry is in a very sick way indeed'. (2)

Fellow New Zealand director Geoff Murphy, who has been working as a jobbing director on mainstream Hollywood productions for the past decade, was even more pessimistic. Introduced as one of those film-makers 'who want to give the local industry a good kick up the clapperboard', he declared:

The place has to have a buzz on. At the moment, there ain't no buzz. The situation is quite desperate. More New Zealanders are going to the cinema than any time since television started [but] there are fewer going to New Zealand movies than anytime since the Film Commission was started. (3)

New Zealand films continue to be made, and made well. In September 2002, the Niki Caro-directed feature Whale Rider won The People's Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and has been tipped by some for bigger prizes. But the big problem remains--how to get more New Zealanders to go to New Zealand films, when nearly half of the films the New Zealand Film Commission has invested in, over the past twenty-five years, have been seen on the big screen by fewer than one percent of the population. (4) Some films have a box office return which would barely cover the cost of lunches for the crew.

One solution being mooted is for television (state-owned Television New Zealand and CanWest-owned TV3 and TV4) to become more involved in feature film production but television is currently preoccupied with its own concerns and challenges. In one of those switcheroos which characterize New Zealand television, the Labour Government came into power in 1988, with a declared intention to shift Television New Zealand (TVNZ) away from the path of free market activity and maximization of profits--a route it had followed with much enthusiasm, since the widespread deregulation of the late 1980s. The 1998 election manifesto of. Labour included the promise to return TVNZ to clearer 'public service' and 'citizenship' roles. To this end, it developed and imposed the Television New Zealand Charter (May 2001), leading one British commentator to remark:

Broadcasters seeking to peer into the future of public service broadcasting (PSB) don't need a crystal ball or expensive consultants. They just have to travel to New Zealand. …

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