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NZ Update #18.2: Beyond Exceptionality?

It’s all go here in New Zealand, so I’ve had to add this to the last post. And — working around other commitments — I’ve probably missed stuff!

But it looks like there are more and more reasons to be optimistic about positive change following more announcements: from the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZFF); New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC, our taxpayer-funded film agency); and the New Zealand Writers Guild (NZWG). Some Wellbeing Budget allocations that could help increase opportunities for women, too. Some awards that acknowledge some brilliant women. Two upcoming summits.

New Zealand’s Best Short Film

Jane Campion (credit: NZFC)

Part of the NZFF and to be judged by Jane Campion this year. And five of the six finalist films she has selected are #directedbywomen (or co-directed)–

Egg Cup Requiem directed by Prisca Bouchet and Nick Mayow; Hinekura, directed by Becs Arahanga (also one of the Vai writer/directors; and Hinekura won the Mana Wairoa Te Reo Prize at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival); Krystalwritten by Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu and directed by Briar Grace Smith (two of the now-legendary Waru women); Nancy From Now On directed by Keely Meechan; and Our Father, directed by Esther Mauga.

NZFC announcements

For New Zealand and international companies with a film funded by the NZFC that is nearing production and has a budget of more than $500,000— internships, attachments and mentorships on productions for writers, directors and producers, and professional placements with companies for emerging and mid-career filmmakers.

Lots of interesting women in this list. I’m especially drawn to Lisa Reihana’s untitled project– ‘ Using elements of AR and VR, real and invented interactions between the two indigenous cultures of Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand are reimagined and brought to life. Set in an indeterminate future’. And Gaylene Preston’s VR Rita Rides Again — ‘Enter paintings by Rita Angus and submerge yourself in her mind, using her own words as she struggles to achieve her breathtaking unique vision. Douglas Lilburn’s compositions mirror her deeply observed painterly trip’.

Rita Angus on wall in Wellington CBD (based on a 1947 portrait by Theo Schoon)

Each project receives a grant of $90,000 towards a short film, and $10,000 towards development of their feature concepts. And all of these are #directedbywomen!

Topping Out Writer: Michael Bennett Director: Kerry Fox Producer: Juliet Dowling 

Jovial lingual banter between two Irish scaffolders as they ascend up a London high-rise leads to suspicion, jealousy and precipitous threat towards the top, when the boss senses his young protegé is in love.

Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu at the Berlinale

When We Were Kids Writer/Director: Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu (as well as the writer of Krystal, above in the Best Short Film list; and Ani, which she wrote and directed, screened at the Berlinale and just won the Whenua Jury Short Fiction Prize at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival) Producer: Sarah Cook (who also produced Ani)

Piki (13) examines the boundaries of her changing body during a day at the pools with her best friend.

Frankie Jean and the Morning Star Writer/Director: Hannah Marshall Producer: Tara Riddell, Gareth Williams

In the early hours of the morning, a plucky, rugby obsessed 8-year-old girl stumbles across a teenager about to end his life.

This year it celebrates Pacific Island women screenwriters. Applications close Friday 21 June at 5pm.

NZWG Seed and Advanced Seed Funding

The image says it all. Pretty nice.

And then there was that Wellbeing Budget.

Wellbeing Budget

These details with thanks to Radio New Zealand.

Extra $25 Million for screen grants
The NZFC’s New Zealand Screen Production Grants — receive an extra $25 million in 2019–20 to help the creation of local content. The NZFC’s New Zealand Screen Production Grants — receive an extra $25 million in 2019–20 to help the creation of local content. (No mention of gender equity in its allocation, but that’s a few more features, maybe with larger budgets, so it can only be good? It would have been even better to see a hefty marketing and distribution allocation, to be devoted to building local appreciation of women’s films, a mirroring of a new commitment by the equivalent French agency, the CNC, to ‘improving the visibility of films made by women in cinemas through incentives for distribution and promotion’.)

Increase for Ngā Taonga
Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision archives New Zealand film, television and sound. It will receive $6.6 million over the next four years to increase the rate of digital preservation following years of not being able to meeting its delivery targets. (Great news. Their work is vital.)

$41 million increase for media and communications
Broadcasting, Communications and Digital Media funding is to increase by $41.680 million over the next four years. Key areas of focus include investing in “national identity and wellbeing” via NZ on Air, and strengthening RNZ by $14.5 million in operational costs and 3.5 million in capital to upgrade infrastructure in the next two years. (Will ‘national identity and wellbeing’ have an intersectional gender focus so broadcasters have to make some changes?) 

And via Māori Development there is $7 million in each of the next two years for Te Māngai Pāho to purchase new and innovative media content, with a particular focus on rangatahi audiences. (No idea what this will mean but it sounds good.)


Mana Wāhine
An annual WIFTNZ award, presented at the Wairoa Māori Film Festival. This year, Whetu Fala won. Whetu has produced, directed and edited hundreds of hours of television, including drama, documentaries, reality series and short films in Aōtearoa New Zealand, in both te reo Māori and in English. She is also an actor; and founding member of many industry organisations.

Whetu Fala (credit: Wairoa Māori Film Festival)

Queens Birthday Honours
They’re archaic. And somewhat random. And often lovely to hear about. 

Robyn Malcolm (credit: Chris Skelton)

This year ‘Queen’ Robyn Malcolm, who — like Jennifer Ward-Lealand — is always a theatrical Dame to me, was awarded an MNZM. I love Robyn’s work as an actor. And I love her because she’s our Emma Thompson, our Vanessa Redgrave, a committed activist who has campaigned for change on many political, environmental and social issues; and spearheaded — at considerable personal cost, I imagine — a high-profile actors’ union campaign to negotiate standard contracts for actors in The Hobbit films. And she’s a devoted mother. Right now, she’s also on set in Belgrade, Serbia, reprising her role as Mistress Elinor, power-hungry publican of The Nightshade Inn, in the second season of US supernatural fantasy series The Outpost.

And new Dame Fran Walsh, hitherto Fran, Lady Jackson, has now caught up with Sir Peter. Not before time.

Dame Fran Walsh (credit: Wingnut Films)

And she had some great things to say in a rare interview, with Stuff.

‘She calls Kiwis “born storytellers,” and says “the depth of talent in this country is inspiring.” However, she harbours some concerns about the current state of the industry.

“I think we should increase the budget of the NZFC and limit their ability to meddle as quasi producers,” she says bluntly. “We need to take more risks in development and understand that there will be some failures along the way and hopefully some successes.

“The market will always want prescriptive storytelling but subscribing to that model is usually counter-productive. Funding entities don’t like to take risks,” Walsh continues.

“They naturally want ‘what has worked before’ which doesn’t allow much room for original storytelling in both form and content. Being caught up in projects that follow prescribed structures is a deadening experience where fatigue and pressure combine to exhaust your creativity.” 

Beyond that, she says, “we need to put more energy and investment into young filmmakers” — and it’s not surprising that the woman who wonders if  “the absence of a female prime minister” might also be partially to blame for her long wait for a title, also has concerns about female representation in the industry.

“The reality is that working in film is that much harder for women when you factor in the needs of being a parent, filming on location, the very long hours and the all consuming nature of a project can assume in your life,” she says.

And if you travel to the Women in Film & Television International (WIFTI) Summit and Power of Inclusion in Auckland in early October, spring-time, you may hear more good news!

The Power of Inclusion

The Power of Inclusion is two days of keynotes, panels, case studies and conversations with speakers from around the world, hosted by the NZFC and WIFTI with support from The Walt Disney Studios and an unprecedented event in the Asia-Pacific region. It follows the WIFTI summit, also in Auckland, on 2 October, for WIFT members only. 

Who would I love to see and hear from at The Power of Inclusion?

First of all, I hope that our Prime Minister — probably the major attraction for international visitors — will announce that New Zealand will no longer be complicit in global discrimination against women directors and directors of colour.

In the 2018 year our taxpayer-funded International Screen Production Grant, for international projects that film or do their post-production in New Zealand, allocated 98%from almost $108m to projects directed by men, and 97% to projects directed by white people. And I long to hear Jacinda Ardern say that our national commitment to inclusion requires this to change.

Could she offer an incentive? Perhaps echo the announcement made in France late last year, of ‘a bonus of 15% of CNC [the NZFC equivalent] support for films that include as many women as men in the management positions of their film crew’, with an 8 point scale in place to report on the presence of women in key positions?

Because of the Prime Minister’s international mana, I believe that her message would be heard, understood and widely transmitted; and acted on with enthusiasm.

I also hope to hear from people who’ve already developed inclusion-oriented practices that bring results. Who experiment. Take risks. Fail sometimes.

For instance? Because I love collective action and it’s had a powerful influence in this sphere, my list is a mix of collectives and individuals.

Jill Soloway with her ambition to topple the patriarchy. Amazing Lena Waithe. The Korean producers responsible for ensuring that 90% of their screenwriters are women. Women from Canada’s Women in View, whose initiatives are bold and varied; France’s Le Deuxième Regard that morphed into 50:50x2020and whose current site doesn’t fully reflect the depth and breadth of their history; the European Women’s Audiovisual Network; Francine Raveney, who used to head EWA and is now Project Manager for Gender Issues and for Second Features at Eurimages, the Council of Europe’s 37-member, organisation for film and film funding, where she led development of its Gender Equality Strategy 2018–2020. Raising Films in the UK and Australia;  Women Make Movies, which has championed women's film for more than 45 years, through production assistance and global distribution.

So Mayer, film critic and activist with Raising Films and Club de Femmes, described by the Guardian as giving an ‘incendiary presentation’ at last year’s Woman With a Movie Camera Summit. Director Maria Giese, who’s using the legal system to take on Hollywood’s failures to include women. The women of the 22-year-old Seoul International Women’s Film Festival, an inspiring and intersectional annual event. Multi-hyphenate Naomi McDougall Jones, who’s courageously experimenting with ways to increase the audiences for women’s films as well as with much else. Seed & Spark, the most successful crowd funder for filmmakers, which provides an excellent and diverse streaming service.

Brilliant and big-hearted Ava DuVernay. Among individuals who’ve worked over an extended period to achieve inclusion, she and the Swedish Film Institute’s Anna Serner have provided exemplary leadership and results to match. Ava has employed only women directors in every season of Queen Sugar. And she’s built her own house/studio, Array, an ‘independent film distribution and resource collective dedicated to the amplification of independent films by people of colour and women filmmakers globally’, which distributes Hepi Mita’s Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen. Her most recent success, the powerful When They See Us, just out on Netflix, is now screening in over 100 countries and sparking conversations everywhere. Did she enjoy herself enough in New Zealand last time to make time to come back? I hope so.

But most of all, I hope for a very strong representation of the local creatives who have achieved inclusion through collective and kind practices that are unique to Aotearoa and effectively address many of the problems that face women filmmakers, as described by Dame Fran. Their work is also central to global discussions of inclusion and belonging: Libby Hakaraia of MāorilandKerry Warkia and Ainsley Gardiner and all those who work with Kerry at Brown Sugar Apple Grunt (e.g. on WaruVai) and Ainsley at Miss Conception (e.g. on The Breaker Upperers — with Piki Films — and the forthcoming Cousins). And the people over at Piki Films, especially Jessica Hansell. And all those who — like Jessica with Aroha Bridge — have participated in the wild world of webseries with distinction and very limited resources and in the process transformed onscreen representation here: the Flat3 collective’s many series; Hanelle Harris with Baby Mama’s Club; the many Candle Wasters’ productions; Ness Simons’ Pot Luck

This is a perfect time to reflect on the words of lawyer Moana Jackson, as an expert on Te Tiriti o Waitangi/The Treaty of Waitangi (1840) which regulates relationships between the Crown (in Power of Inclusion represented by the NZFC) and Māori–

‘When many Europeans were still nervously venturing into what Socrates called the “little pond” of the Mediterranean, the peoples of the Pacific were charting the greatest ocean in the world. They mapped its currents, reached for stories in its depths, and established a whakapapa that joined all of its islands together. That is a story worthy of being honoured — but in the Crown commemorations [of Captain Cook’s first visit to New Zealand 250 years ago] it is only being told in the shadowed narrative of someone else.’

Why this reflection? Because this ‘unprecedented Asia-Pacific summit’ is also the perfect time to honour fully the power and knowledge and storytelling expertise of inspirational Pacific-indigenous #womeninfilm; and indigenous women from Asia and Australia, too. And not in the shadow of Hollywood’s and Europe’s narratives.


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