NZ Update #17.2: Wellbeing & Women’s Feature Filmmaking

I get up early on Friday 15 March. I want to complete this followup to NZ Update #17.1: Safety Revisited (Update #17.1) — about women’s lack of safety in New Zealand in general and in the screen industries in particular — before I leave to support the School Strike for Climate gathering in the grounds of Parliament. I don’t quite finish before I leave home. But no problem: climate change activism is urgent, a priority in this summer/autumn when — to give just two examples — not one stick insect has appeared in our garden and very very few honey bees, although there are many flowering plants for them. Today, the sun’s intensity is shocking. Like the spring sun when the gaps in the ozone layer first affected us. Only more so.

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Sharon Murdoch on the School Strike, with — for those of you who aren’t NZers — commentary from two MPs & a journo (reproduced with kind permission of Sharon Murdoch: we’re so blessed to have her!)

I leave Parliament inspired and heartened by those dedicated, super-well-informed, graceful, warm and articulate activists. And moved by Maori Donna Awatere-Huata’s brief speech as Māori Climate Commissioner, about the need to consider how our present actions will affect those living in seven generations’ time; engaged by her naming of the protest day as the first Mokopuna Survival Day; and delighted by her transmission of the Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou, Āke, Ake, Ake chant.

On the bus home, I reflect (again) about how different things might be for our suffering mother earth if indigenous voices and world views and knowledge systems and practices, including those of Māori and Pasifika people, hadn’t been so disrupted by injuries from colonisation processes. If indigenous story-tellers — in all their diversity — had been better resourced and their stories — in all their diversity — had been amplified. What if we’d funded Māori women-directed feature films every year during the almost 30 years between Merata Mita’s Mauri and Waru, instead of none at all?

Because of the complex intersections between artistic identity and other identities, Māori women writers and directors would have explored many and varied themes, issues and questions during that time, in every kind of genre. But at least some of their films would have inspired us to care for our environment a little more wisely? And what if the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZFF) had emulated Māoriland and treasured indigenous filmmakers and indigenous women filmmakers?

And then I sit down at my desk. And the first reports of the Christchurch terrorism come in. Everything stops, to focus on the victims, to support them and to grieve together. Later, I think about re-writing this post as a response to that event. But then I see another Sharon Murdoch cartoon.

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(reproduced with kind permission of Sharon Murdoch: what a star she is!)

And I read a Facebook post from American writer Alisa Valdes: it’s strange and illuminating to see ‘our’ news discussed so widely, from so many perspectives. Alisa wrote– ‘Hollywood is where the modern mythology of hate is incubated…Until the global collective mythological narrative of white male supremacy is changed, script by script, to a lovingly and realistically inclusive story…we are doomed.’

After I read this I think No, keep this post as-is; it might help to unravel the hate. It might inform and encourage policy changes and New Zealand’s taxpayer contributions to ‘a lovingly and realistically inclusive story’.

It might even help ensure that when taxpayer agencies fund development of visual narratives about the Christchurch massacre and the selection and framing of the voices and images within them they will prioritise filmmakers from groups adversely affected by racism, especially Muslim filmmakers. So over several weeks I tidy this up, add and change a few things and some Endnotes (*rare event*), and here it is.

International Women’s Day (IWD, March 8 ICYMI!) was no fun this year. At dawn, I read media reports about sexual violation by entitled white (Pākehā) New Zealanders. A senior academic convicted for one sexual assault on an elderly woman in the rest homes he visited as a musician; and investigated for another. A ‘prominent businessman’ who has interim name suppression, on trial for sexual assaults on two young men, associated with attempts to ‘buy them off’, assisted by ‘a prominent entertainer’. These men, who ignore what a friend describes as the need for ‘eye-to-eye’ consent, are close to home — because New Zealand is small, lots of us know who they are regardless of any name suppression; and many people know them personally.

Later in the morning, in Women & Hollywood’s interview with the makers of Vai, the Pasifika women’s feature to premiere very soon at SXSW (North America) and Māoriland (New Zealand), I read this–

‘W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

[Vai women]: Movies get government financing most of the time in New Zealand.

And on the newspaper’s IWD front page, our former Prime Minister, Helen Clark exhorts the nation– ‘None of us should rest until the serious inequities and injustice many women face around the world are overcome’.

Collectively, these bits of information propel me to read the latest Annual Report from the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC), the gatekeeper system that allocates taxpayer funding to films and filmmakers. And then I abandon my plans to work on the glut of apples and pears from our garden and lunch with mates, to have another think about the serious gender inequities and injustices and risks for women that continue to leak into the screen industries, including gender inequity in that ‘government financing’.

And then I wonder if the present government’s commitment to its Wellbeing Budget will bring change.

In case you missed it, here’s how Prime Minister Jacinda Adern defines the Wellbeing Budget’s intent–

‘…our Wellbeing Budget puts people at its centre.

It requires us to set targets, report on our progress, and create strategies to ensure we’re looking after the wellbeing of our people — because what gets measured, gets done.

We will continue to measure economic growth, balance our books responsibly, run a healthy surplus, and spend well within our means — but by widening our focus, we will build an economy that is more productive, sustainable, and inclusive.

It’s a more compassionate approach — and it’s simply the right thing to do.’

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At Davos in January, the Prime Minister — who is also the Minister for the Arts, Culture & Heritage — expanded on what this means for those who make Budget decisions– ‘If you’re a Minister [of the Crown] and you want to spend money you’re going to have to prove you are going to improve inter-generational wellbeing’.

So what needs to change? How can the feature film industry become more ‘productive, sustainable, and inclusive’, improve inter-generational wellbeing, become more compassionate?

When I explore the NZFC’s New Zealand and International Screen Production Grant decisions recorded in that Annual Report, in conjunction with the NZFC’s investment in local films, I can see that radical change is necessary and urgent, because the data shows that the New Zealand taxpayer strongly supports the ‘mythological narrative of white male supremacy’ that must be changed ‘script by script, to a lovingly and realistically inclusive story’.

And thanks to the Wellbeing Budget’s holistic framework I think change is possible. So I’m going to run through the figures, provide some international context for comparison, and suggest some viable principles and practices that this government — led by a woman Prime Minister whose international mana continues to grow — might use to help create that very necessary change not just in New Zealand but globally. (You might have more ideas: I hope so!)

Spending Taxpayer Money on Feature Films

The NZFC invests — and takes equity — in the development, production and post-production of local feature films. It also offers those Screen Production Grants, based on Qualifying New Zealand Production Expenditure, projects’ actual expenditure on specified classes of items, without taking corresponding equity in the final work.

The New Zealand Screen Production Grant (New Zealand Grant) is offered to qualifying local, larger budget, projects in which the NZFC has already invested and has equity; and the International Screen Production Grant (International Grant) to international projects that film or do their post-production here, like Avatar, Mulan, A Wrinkle in Time and Peter Jackson’s projects.

The International Grant disburses by far the most money. It’s a scheme, according to the NZFC, that ‘encourages international productions to pick New Zealand, and this creates jobs, economic growth — particularly in regional areas — and offers local practitioners the opportunity to upskill’. Its economic benefits and its associated Hobbit Law of 2010 are controversial, and some positive changes would be timely (1).

In the 2018 year, eighteen international film projects, two of them #directedbywomen (11%) — A Wrinkle in Time and Wonder Woman — received International Grants totalling $107, 838, 992. (Television projects also received funding but I ignored them, partly because they have multiple directors.)

This is the allocation of that almost $108m according to director gender (2)–

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Figure 1. International Screen Production Grant $$ share by director gender 2018 financial year (all Figures based on NZFC Annual Report information unless noted otherwise)

Because this director gender imbalance in the amount allocated is so large, New Zealand is undoubtedly complicit in global discrimination against women directors; and against other women film workers.

The extent of this global discrimination has been intensely examined over the last few years. Researchers and funding agencies have studied writer and director genders; gender equity among casts and crews in relation to their employment and payment levels; the inter-relationship of genders of directors, writers, protagonists and crews; how gender intersects with under-represented groups of various kinds; speaking time between genders; corporation commitment to equity; and much more. Here are some research findings and examples of how some positive changes (3).

Some International Analysis and Change

The French 50:50 by 2020 is an initiative led by the powerful activist organisation formerly known as Le Deuxième Regard, based in France, Europe’s most prolific film-making nation. It includes many filmmakers and is perhaps best known for its organisation of the women filmmaker protest at Cannes in 2018, when the festival signed the 50:50 by 2020 charter. As a result of their work, many major festivals — including Cannes, Berlin and Venice — have committed to having half their programmed films #directedbywomen in 2020.

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Protest at Cannes 2018, led by, l. to r. Kristen Stewart — and yes! there in the second row behind her, Wanuri Kahiu — Léa Seydoux, Khadja Nin, Ava DuVernay, Cate Blanchett and Agnès Varda

These are the principles that guide the 50:50 by 2020 project–

‘We believe that equality restores the balance of power.

We believe that diversity deeply changes representations.

We believe that the opportunity to work in an egalitarian and inclusive environment must be seized because we are certain that the equal sharing of power will promote profound creative renewal.’

Equality, inclusivity and creative renewal are now underway in Europe thanks to inspiration and hard work from the Swedish Film Institute and the European Women’s Audiovisual Network as well as 50:50 by 2020; and more hard work work by the pan-European funding body Eurimages, with a Gender Equality Strategy that aims for 50/50 by 2020 — in the latest co-production funding round at Eurimages, 44% of the productions funded were women-directed productions and 42% of the funds was disbursed to those productions.

50:50 by 2020’s activism also inspired the first European points-based financial incentive aimed at improving gender parity in cinema, at France’s National Cinema Centre (CNC), within a scheme supported by rigorous statistical reporting.

This 50:50 by 2020 chart shows the results of gender discrimination in France’s feature film industry.

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Figure 2. Distribution of jobs behind the camera, via 50:50 by 2020
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Figure 3. Pay gaps (hourly payments) by gender, via 50:50 by 2020

Evidence gathered by American academics shows that, as in France, American feature projects — well-represented among those that receive our International Grants — are also less likely to employ women (and therefore more likely to exclude women from the upskilling element of our International Grants scheme). And, as the second of the following charts shows, the majority of these features are also unlikely to provide life-enhancing viewing for women and girls, whose lives are much less often reflected on screen than those of men and boys.

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Figure 4. Comparison of Percentages of Women Working on Features with at Least One Female Director vs. with Exclusively Male Directors (It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top Grossing Films of 2018)
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Figure 5. Comparison of Representation of Female Characters in Films with At Least One Woman Director and/or Writer and Films with Exclusively Male Directors and/or Writers (It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top Grossing Films of 2018)

Other recent research shows that some measurable inclusion/exclusion has improved. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative (the Inclusion Initiative) studied gender and the intersection of gender and race across North America’s 100 Top-Grossing Films of 2007–2018 (1,200 movies) and found that in the whole decade only 28% of those films had women as leads or co-leads, but in 2018 the proportion increased to 40%.

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Figure 6. from Inclusion Initiative’s Inequality Across 1,200 Popular Films: Examining Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Leads/Co Leads From 2007 to 2018: Research Brief

Representatives of the ethnic groups that form 39.3% of the American population were the lead or co-lead in only 15.5% of the films studied; and although women from from a variety of different backgrounds were represented, indigenous women and women from the Middle East were still largely absent.

The latest Geena Benchmark Report from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media studied ‘family films’ to quantify progress over time. Here’s some of its results–

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Neither research project explored ‘by and about’ statistics, an analysis of who controlled the stories and the lenses through which the increased numbers of women and girls and people of colour and other groups were seen. But Darnell Hunt, in his annual Hollywood Diversity Report, identified the percentage of writers of colour credited on top films as ‘flat over the seven years examined in this report series — 7.6% in 2011 and a nearly identical 7.8% in 2017’ (television’s numbers were better).

This ‘by and about’ matters, because until there are many more features where storytellers from groups that are under-represented or misrepresented or not represented at all control the narrative, inclusive onscreen representation, particularly of protagonists and antagonists — otherwise welcome — can be a kind of colonisation within a cultural narrative controlled mostly by white men. Additional layers of colonisation through representation seem to have a fresh vigour now it’s established that films with complex and entertaining female protagonists, including female protagonists of colour, can be very profitable (4).

This has adverse consequences for women writers and directors, who remain excluded; and for writers and directors from other — and often intersecting — under-represented groups, also often colonised and misrepresented. For instance, as distinguished African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay puts it, while acknowledging that artists should be free to make art about whatever they want–

‘Historically, black artists have not been able to interpret black life as robustly as we should, in terms of having it distributed, financed and shared. That’s why it’s a beautiful moment when you have black artists who are able to articulate and express their reflection as opposed to black folk only being able to watch an interpretation of our life’.

(And I know that I enjoyed the women-centred The Favourite, but longed for a version made with the same budget, and with someone like Amma Asante, Andrea Arnold, CampbellX or Sally Potter as director and co-writer — or two of them! — working with The Favourite’s originating scriptwriter Deborah Davis. And I’m as excited as anyone that Joel Cohen is going to direct Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in Macbeth. But what about Steve McQueen directing David Oyelowo and Viola Davis in another version?)

Further research has found that even if women are leads or co-leads in a highly profitable and award-winning film, they may not get as much to say. Just before the 2018 Oscars, Ceretai’s gender analysis of speaking times among the films nominated for Best Picture demonstrated that ‘the Oscars are telling us to listen more than twice as much to men as to women’.

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Figure 7. Speaking Time Between Genders from Ceretai

The Inclusion Initiative also looked at distributor figures; some of these corporations have received International Grants from the NZFC.

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Figure 8. from the Inclusion Initiative

Many of these major players have recently signed up to the ill-named ‘4% Challenge’ (where’s the aspiration in that, a so much less ambitious agenda than 50:50 by 2020?!), committing themselves to more features helmed by women.

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Figure 9. from TIME’S UP Now

New Zealand Grants & Their Inter-Relationship with International Grants

The New Zealand Grants, in contrast to the International Grants, aim ‘to develop the New Zealand film industry and tell more New Zealand stories’ and are awarded to some but not all projects that the NZFC funds and takes equity in.

In the 2018 financial year, the NZFC invested in (took equity in) and/or gave local Screen Production Grants to eleven narrative feature films (see below, (5) for details of the my basis for project inclusion).

Of these, three were #directedbywomen (27%). If the single project jointly directed by a woman and a man is included, 36% of the projects funded included a woman director. But much less than 27% of a total $19,158,852 taxpayer local production pie was allocated to projects #directedbywomen — 9% — and if the jointly funded project is included the share is still only 31%; this raises the question of whether a woman-directed work jointly directed with a man attracts more resources than one that isn’t.

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Figure 10. NZFC Production Funding and NZ Screen Production Grant $$ share by director gender 2018 financial year

When I combined all the taxpayer film production funding — local and international — there were 29 projects, five #directedbywomen (17%), one directed by a mixed gender team (3%). Here’s how the grand $126,897,844 total was allocated.

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Figure 11. Local and International Screen Production Grants and NZFC production investment in narrative features 2018 financial year: $$ share by director gender

Overall, beyond gender, the international projects represent a very narrow cultural narrative. Women’s under-representation among the directors is matched by other under-representations: a Māori man directed just one project; an African-American woman directed another; and a Chinese man directed a third. Collectively, these three projects received a tiny share of the International Grants.

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Figure 12. Under-represented director share of $$$ in International Grants 2017–2018

The local cultural narrative is almost as narrow: that blue 3% in figure 11. includes — as far as I know — all that year’s projects directed by Māori (14.9% of the population, with Waru) and Pasifika (7.4%, with Vai); Asian directors (11.8%) aren’t represented at all.

None of this taxpayer funding imbalance is great from the perspective of inter-generational wellbeing, because it privileges the male and/or white gazes and encourages corporate practices that — as discussed in Update #17.1 don’t support mental health.

In the local context, wouldn’t it be better for inter-generational wellbeing for audiences to see Māori and Pasifika people more often through a well-funded Māori and/or Pasifika woman’s lens or women’s lenses, telling some of the infinitely varied Māori and/or Pasifika stories, especially because the local and life-enhancing culture of ‘kindness and collectivism’ (or Tū Tonu Mai) in filmmaking has been articulated so clearly and practised so effectively by Māori and Pasifika filmmakers, in the Brown Sugar Apple Grunt, Piki Films and Miss Conception features? And what about all those Asian individuals who see almost no-one like them in local movies, made by their own filmmakers? (6)

And wouldn’t it also be better if at least half the projects receiving International Grants were directed by women, some of whom may welcome the opportunity to emulate ‘kindness and collectivism’ practices, keeping in mind the 50:50 by 2020 principles, particularly the emphasis on creative renewal; and distinguished showrunner Shonda Rhimes’ statement that ‘Where there’s equity, there’s less harassment and abuse’?

How could this happen? I think about this while I peel and core all those apples and pears and freeze them and bottle them and plant winter broccoli seedlings and sow broad bean seeds; interview a remarkable filmmaker for two hours; post a 1980 video interview with Māori writer J C Sturm who — thanks to sexism and racism — was unable to find a publisher for her volume of stories back in the 1950s and 1960s; and plan to go to that Schools Climate Change protest at Parliament.

Towards Radical Improvement, Within a Wellbeing Framework

The NZFC is working on gender equity — and other inclusion — with mixed success; I address some aspects of this below, within a discussion of support for distribution of women-directed features. For now, because of that $107m, I’m going to focus on the (feature film) International Grant funding director gender imbalance and how to change it to something more equitable.

International project owners have no stake at all in looking after our inter-generational wellbeing. They’re unlikely to care that Lorraine Rowlands has identified some complex mental health issues for New Zealand film workers on their ‘big’ projects — including at least one that is women-specific; it’s hard, reading her thesis, to feel hopeful that the established international filmmaking culture that visits us and lives with us will change any time soon. Adherents of this culture may also be attracted by under-regulated labour practices and be more likely to bring with them — protected by non-disclosure agreements — abusive practices that compromise local worker wellbeing: anecdotal evidence is that abusive behaviour, especially sexual harassment, is more common on international projects than on local ones.

But I believe that — because of New Zealand’s current international profile and leader and because the American and European statistics show some improvement — it’s possible to make changes that promote inter-generational wellbeing *and* maintain any local benefits from the International Grants, starting within a context where the NZFC works hard on international relationships. According to its Annual Report

‘International activities serve to strengthen our ties with the international industry and to underline our commitment to working with international partners. International and domestic production and post-production activity in New Zealand play a highly symbiotic role and the International team activity recognises, values and actively promotes this interconnectedness as crucial to the sustainability and growth of the industry.’

That team’s connectivity is probably assisted by the networks of our internationally-oriented filmmakers, including actors; and by connections made at key film festivals over the years and arguably. because of this, it could easily adjust its activities to attract inclusive and highly resourced projects that are more likely to increase our national wellbeing than those that come here only for economic reasons and the scenery.

Because of the NZFC’s international connectivity, because some big studios have signed up to the 4% Challenge and because there are changes happening elsewhere, it seems feasible for the agency to commit itself to its own 50:50 by (say) 2025 challenge across all its production funding (that $126,897,844). Why not identify all the studios’ forthcoming women-directed films and pitch New Zealand to them (there’s a list at the end of this article)? Build networks with producers who bring women directors’ work to Māoriland? With Eurimages? With the Korean women who run the renowned Seoul International Women’s Film Festival and are tuned into what’s happening that way? With anyone else you can think of, away from the comforts of long-established relationships at Sundance, Toronto and Berlin?

Why not add some incentives to the Qualifying New Zealand Production Expenditure, like France’s provision of up to a 15% bonus added to its state funding allocation, using an eight-point system, where a production is awarded points if the writer and director as well as key crew members — such as the cinematographer — are women? (A production is eligible for a bonus once it achieves at least four points.)

Uniquely I think we could add New Zealand ‘kindness and collectivism’ points for providing best practice on-set childcare — for pre-schoolers and during school holidays — and subsidies for those who have off-set caring responsibilities; and for encouraging job-sharing. We’ve know now that projects that embrace these things can make money. For example What We Do in Shadows (2014) and The Breaker Upperers (2018) are respectively numbers 8 and 15 in our local Top Twenty Films at the New Zealand Box Office. In a Los Angeles Times interview last month, writer/directors Madeline Sami and Jackie Van Beek explained how they’ve experienced and practised ‘kindness and collectivism’ principles on those projects–

‘They [Madeline and Jackie] hired several female department heads and facilitated job sharing so that working moms were part of a gender-balanced crew, including producers Ainsley Gardiner and Georgina Conder of the female-forward Miss Conception Films. “Our producers Ainsley [Gardiner, of Miss Conception, which shared production with Piki Films] and Georgina [Condor, of Miss Conception] were both moms, so one would do half the week and then they’d tag out,” said Sami, who has a baby daughter with musician wife Ladyhawke. “Head of makeup and head of wardrobe were job-sharing moms; we made a concerted effort to be like, ‘We can do this.’ “ “It’s important to us that we’re inclusive and that being a mom doesn’t mean you can’t make feature films in any department,” said Van Beek, who has three kids with comedian Jesse Griffin. “Making feature films and having children shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”

Van Beek credits her experience on What We Do In the Shadows, where producers Waititi and Chelsea Winstanley had an area set aside so she could breastfeed, with setting a welcoming tone for working mothers on set.

“I had fangs in and I was breastfeeding my baby. After that experience, I thought, it can be no other way. And if a mother is the best person for the job — make it work.”’

What Principles Could Justify These Changes?

  1. To continue with the current International Grant system would be at odds with the philosophy behind Jacinda Ardern’s statement that ‘If you’re a Minister [of the Crown] and you want to spend money you’re going to have to prove you are going to improve inter-generational wellbeing’. International Grants perpetuate systemic gender inequity, both locally and globally. They do this because they tend to exclude storytellers of under-represented groups and cultures and to generate films that support the ‘global collective mythological narrative of white male supremacy’, which New Zealand seeks to reject; and their production practices can and do place New Zealand workers’ mental and physical wellbeing at risk, which places their family members at risk too.
  2. Reform based on a duty of care to New Zealand citizens needs to support changes to the culture within which international projects operate here to ensure all workers are safe; and to support a global creative renewal that develops a new narrative, not based on and within white male supremacy.
  3. Shonda Rhimes’ authoritative statement that ‘Where there’s equity, there’s less harassment and abuse’ supports the idea that reform needs to be based on equity, starting with gender equity and the idea that equity requires that those responsible for framing and shaping onscreen stories about under-represented and misrepresented groups are themselves part of and where possible accountable to those groups, who may also be their primary and underserved audiences.
  4. Some New Zealand filmmakers have developed a ‘kindness and collectivism’ culture within filmmaking which has economic value and is likely to be attractive to international filmmakers who are developing new cultural narratives within contexts that acknowledge their economic value.
  5. Many women, many of them also part of other under-represented and misrepresented groups, have been damaged by industry behaviours — on local and international projects — and have left the industry. A commitment to equitable allocation of International Grants would acknowledge that these women haven’t been safe and how much we’ve all been harmed by the presence of systemic bullying; sexual violation, from harassment to rape; harassment on other identity-based grounds; and economic discrimination. Positive changes may help bring these women back; or to undertake other work feeling stronger through knowing that the damage to them has been acknowledged and that their safety and wellbeing matters to us all. Back to local productions now.

Distribution & Marketing & New Zealand Features

The disheartening statistics that record women’s participation in New Zealand feature films as writers and directors are sometimes explained by reference to ‘the pipeline’ of project development and production, a pipeline historically riddled with systemic sexism. This sexism fails to acknowledge that, as So Mayer puts it in their #DirectedByWomen review of Waru, ‘exclusion from the means of production [and distribution] is a form of violence’; tends to place the responsibility for the statistics on women themselves; and tends to offer explanations based on erroneous beliefs. These can include a belief that most women aren’t ‘ready’ and need more skills, more ‘development’, more mentoring, more labs, before they can participate fully as feature film writers and directors, often but not always with this kind of result–

Ava qualified this statement in another tweet–

I think that the NZFC too has to ‘try something else if it’s serious about creating balance and defeating bias’, quite a few more ‘something elses’ than at present. Because beliefs about women ‘not being ready’ has created further problems, too.

For instance, as addressed in Update #17.1, if assessors aren’t open to and skilled with ‘different’ structures that some women use, and struggle to engage with unfamiliar stories, assessment of women’s scripts may be inadequate. And if a woman doesn’t have a strong enough advocate for her vision, sometimes but not always her producer, the pipeline may reject her work for funding in the development or production phase, or colonise it with demands for it to ‘fit’ what the screen industries are used to, including the distributors, because to obtain NZFC production funding a distributor has to be in place.

And then, if the project makes it through the pipeline with the writer, director and producer either happy with or resisting colonisation — or, thanks to extraordinary commitment by the filmmakers, makes its way through its own pipeline independent of taxpayer production funding — and enters the world, it’s often denied adequate and appropriate support to help it reach audiences. As also happens in other parts of the world. Globally, marketing and distribution is tough for women filmmakers, especially if their gender intersects with other identities. For instance, the ever-on-to-it Inclusion Initiative says this–

And the equally legendary Birds Eye View responds–

Followed by this reply–

And some examples–

As the Inclusion Initiative noted, Netflix is changing distribution opportunities, for women of colour at least (though there are challenges there, too). Campbell X and Ava DuVernay have both tweeted about their Netflix experiences–

And in response to a question about which film–

For Ava DuVernay–

Last year, as part of my #directedbywomen project, I went to the New Zealand Motion Picture Industry Council’s conference (NZMPICC) for a day. I loved it, was completely entertained. I can’t write much about the conference but I concluded that local distributors and exhibitors are entrenched in the global system that promotes the ‘collective mythological narrative of white male supremacy’. Because that’s how they make a living. The ‘wellbeing’ of various audiences, of the nations within our nation and equity issues within that wellbeing, can’t be part of that, though the NZMPICC certainly cared for the wellbeing of those attending.

Logically, if the NZFC — as our local gatekeeper — is to support women-directed films and films by other under-represented and misrepresented groups effectively, it’s going to have to find new ways to support their distribution and marketing so that they reach the widest audience possible.

At the moment it provides ‘Theatrical Release Support’ through its Distribution Grants to distribution companies and to filmmakers who self-distribute, but the money is allocated unevenly and much of it depends on distributor investment, which in turn is probably dependent on how they predict the box office for the film, in among their other films that tend to echo Hollywood’s ‘collective mythological narrative’ (7). And some local films don’t get the attention and audience they deserve.

Because I knew this and was thinking about it, when I saw this billboard for the forthcoming Daffodils at Wellington Airport I was surprised by my immediate and visceral responses, of sudden anger and then sadness.

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These emotions weren’t about Daffodils. As I understand it, Daffodils is a great story beautifully made. I love the idea of its music and I very much want to see it because I heard its writer, Rochelle Bright, speak at that NZMPICC conference and was soooo impressed by her clarity and content and heart; she was outstanding.

But the same week this billboard appeared I saw Casey Zilbert’s Hang Time — a feminist-made feature set in the Marlborough wine country, about millennials and masculinity — on its brief tour around New Zealand, with single screenings in seven towns and cities, following a local tradition of women’s self-distribution, stretching from Merata Mita’s Patu! (1983) and Gaylene Preston’s Mr Wrong (1985) to Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader’s The Great Maiden’s Blush (2016), with all the associated problems of access to cinemas and good session times.(8)

I know and have written about Casey. But haven’t read her work, like Dearly Departed, a romcom that made the 2017 Hit List, The Tracking Board’s list of best spec scripts of the year *and* The Bitch List for 2018. And all I knew of Hang Time was from the media, including Graeme Tuckett’s review for Stuff (the largest New Zealand news outlet, online and in print). It gave Hang Time 3.5 stars and described it ‘a confident, competent and easy-to-like Kiwi movie’.

Hang Time screened down the road at The Embassy on a Thursday. One-time only, and a Q&A afterwards with cast and crew. I went with an academic/art theorist and a distinguished visual artist. Both feminists. And both unlikely to go if I hadn’t suggested it. We weren’t really the target audience: none of us millennials, all of us verging on ancient; and although the others enjoy their wine, I’ve almost always been an alcohol-free zone, so the wine theme didn’t appeal to me.

After a week of intense engagement with historic intersectional car crashes I was ready for a nap, in my comfortable seat; I expected to doze off somewhere in the middle of the second act, as I tend to do when tired.

But I didn’t. Because I fell in love with the film. Absolutely, it is ‘confident, competent and easy-to-like’. And it has such heart. Beautifully drawn relationships among the five main characters. Beautiful, fluent camera work and editing. It more than passed the Bechdel Test because Jess and Bella didn’t just chat about something other than men, they had a shared storyline of their own that had nothing to do with the blokes at the centre. I loved Harry and Ants, was moved by their conflicts and their portrayals of masculinity, as well as that of the Hemmingway-esque Jake; and like my companions I laughed a lot, just as much as I had at The Breaker Upperers a year ago.

And I was especially happy when millennial filmmaker and entrepreneur Louise Hutt, ‘One of those millenials the internet warned you about’, tweeted from the Hamilton screening–

It wasn’t just me, then. And another, very different, mate texted after the Auckland screening: ‘Very easy to recommend’.

It seems likely that Hang Time’s appeal is partly due to its relevance, that key factor required within every feature funded by the Swedish Film Institute, a bastion of best practice for taxpayer-funded film funds (9). Here in New Zealand, where the patriarchy and the colonisation process continue to influence and damage women and men and children and young people so profoundly, we need many and diverse films that are relevant to how those systems work and how they affect us all. Not only relevant documentaries but also fictional narratives, because they too can affect and galvanise audiences. Hang Time fits very well within a recent and ‘relevant’ woman-made collection, alongside Waru, Vai, a documentary about Celia Lashlie, Celia; and a few others.

From what I saw, what I’ve read and the feedback I got, Hang Time deserved a wider theatrical release. With a billboard or two, like Daffodils. But it didn’t get that release: the NZFC didn’t invest in Hang Time’s two-month (yes!) development, contributed just $40,173 to its production and then just $14,940 to its self-distributed theatrical release.

Other recent and ‘relevant’ woman-directed features, directed — like Hang Time — by women among the ‘kindness and collectivism’ cohort discussed in Update #17.1, also didn’t receive appropriate distribution and marketing investment from the taxpayer. The Great Maiden’s Blush’s (2016) was the only local film on Graeme Tuckett’s Top Ten of 2016, and in giving it four and a half stars, he appreciated it as–

‘…a sinuous, clever, ambitious, nuanced, layered and gorgeously assembled film. Pay The Great Maiden’s Blush the attention it deserves and you’ll be rewarded with one of the most beautifully photographed, best sounding and best written films you’ll see all year’.

In his Top Ten list, he wrote–

‘Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople might have been the local box-office draw this year, but this wee gem was the film that stayed in my mind and heart the longest. Film-makers Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader — aided by editor Annie Collins and cinematographers Alun Bollinger and Waka Attewell — wove together a sinuous tale of love, birth, death, loss and everything in between. It avoided the pits of mawkishness and sentimentality that would have claimed a lesser film and emerged as a tiny gem of honest story telling and narrative ambitions achieved’.

But although the NZFC invested $31,000 in development of The Great Maiden’s Blush, over years, from 2000, and allocated $15,000 to finishing the production, it contributed only $4,000 to its self-distributed theatrical release. (I *think* that tiny $4,000 distribution grant must have been because the NZFC decided it was eligible only for a small Distribution Grant, as an independently funded film, although it had invested $46,000 in it over the years; and as a film without ‘a recognised distributor’ attached (10)).

And then last year there was Dorthe Scheffmann’s Vermilion. Here’s what David Larsen wrote about it in Metro in November (not online)–

‘I was struck by the excellence of the acting, the music, the camera work, the visual effects, the editing and the art direction, but none of these … could have caught fire without such a restrained, intelligent screenplay… I can’t remember when I’ve seen this many complex, wellrealised women — especially older women — in a New Zealand film … Scheffmann’s writing is a gift to her performers, delineating character and story cleanly while trusting them to do the work of bringing both to life. Although the film is dealing with emotionally charged matters, the dialogue is light rather than heavy, elliptical in a way that at first seems pseudo-profound but gradually reveals itself to be the real thing. The characters have the force of lived experience behind them. This is a wise, sweet, moving film and it made me cry.’

Like The Great Maiden’s Blush and Hang Time, Vermilion is absolutely relevant; and especially relevant for women. In an interview with Flicks, Dorthe explains that Vermilion’s about–

‘what constitutes whānau and love. It comes in a lot of different shapes and forms, a chosen family. …And choice, I think, is probably the real theme of this film. Darcy (Jennifer Ward-Lealand) has made choices and some of them she regrets and some she doesn’t.

And then there’s the impact of the choices; the nature of her relationship with her daughter (Zoe, played by Emily Campbell), which is a deep love for each other, but it’s not a love based on time spent with each other. Zoe is clearly more comfortable with the other two women characters.

It’s also about the way women support each other. Friendship between women is one of those incredibly strong human relationships. And there are so few films that actually focus on the power of those relationships. Many women would struggle to bring up children without that community of women to support them.’

But although the NZFC invested in <i>Vermilion</i>&nbsp; ($158,200 in development from 2003, and $1m in production), and New Zealand on Air contributed $199,000, the agency allocated only $10,888 to its release, presumably because the distributor didn’t want to invest heavily in marketing it (11).

Contrast the development timelines and distribution sums for The Great Maiden’s Blush and Vermilion with, to give just one example, the NZFC investments in and grants for the man-directed Pork Pie, a remake of the classic Goodbye Pork Pie — $105,000 for development, between 2014–15 (later repaid to the NZFC); $2m for production; a $2,538,264 Screen Production Grant; and a $123,500 Distribution Grant for its theatrical release in 2017.

According to Box Office Mojo, Pork Pie earned $788,924 in that release, less than the total NZFC investment, as seems to be the case for most local features; and the return to the taxpayer would have been significantly less than that (12). Was Pork Pie’s development, production and release so rapid and well-funded because — unlike Hang Time, The Great Maiden’s Blush and Vermilion — it fitted so easily into that ‘collective mythological narrative’, from idea to script to production to distribution?

Sometimes, a woman-written and directed feature has a similar trajectory, like The Breaker Upperers, which received $50,000 for a short film (proof of concept?) and $50,750 for script development in 2016, then $1,740,600 for production and $119,255 in Distribution Grants, a total of $1,960,605. And it earned $1,196,246 at the local box office on its way to that all-time 15th place. That’s wonderful, in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons, though it too earned less in cinemas than the NZFC’s equity investment and grants combined. But I believe that the imbalance of taxpayer support to reach audiences between Pork Pie, The Breaker Upperers and Daffodils and the three under-resourced films I’ve referred to — Hang Time, Vermilion and The Great Maiden’s Blush — is too great. Because the qualities of the latter three mean that they arguably have equal potential to increase the nation’s wellbeing. The imbalance causes an inequity, a gap like the pay gap, another kind of economic violence; and, like every inequity, it affects inter-generational wellbeing.

How might the NZFC address this inequity, for which distributors aren’t responsible because they aren’t accountable to the taxpayer? How can it initiate and support a kaupapa that treasures those movies and their contribution to the nation’s wellbeing and connects them with wide audiences?

I don’t think increasing the Distribution Grants will help, unless (again) a bonus is offered for especially effective distribution of films written and directed by women and members of other under-represented and colonised groups. Instead, in the new wellbeing-oriented environment I think that, as a gatekeeper, the NZFC is going to have to expand its own marketing and distribution support well beyond the support it directly offers distributors, to move conceptually far beyond its weak assertion in its original gender policy, that ‘The voices and perspectives of women are integral to telling the stories of our country, its culture and communities’, towards well-resourced action that increases audiences for women’s stories.

The principles that could underpin this expansion of the NZFC responsibility are–

  1. Distributors — like most recipients of Screen Production Grants, particularly the International Grants and to some extent the NZFC itself — are enmeshed in ‘the global collective mythological narrative of white male supremacy’, which is changing only slowly. Therefore, local projects that contribute ‘to a lovingly and realistically inclusive story’ and contribute to inter-generational wellbeing need complementary support from the taxpayer.
  2. Complementary support is best provided by a rigorous and well-resourced strategy within the NZFC, the organisation best placed to take our cinema into the hearts and minds of the nation.
  3. Any new strategy has to be equitable, i.e. available at the same level for all feature projects directed by women, with close attention to the diverse communities they intersect with, regardless of whether and how the NZFC has contributed to development and production.
  4. As suggested in Update #17.1 in relation to more appropriate script assessment, to increasing audiences the NZFC may have to open up to a wider community of expertise.

I believe that the distribution and marketing problems — like all the others within this broken system — can be resolved through the kindness and collectivism implied in the fourth principle.

Here are some ideas, based on the NZFC’s capacity to leverage its established relationships and to be courageous and imaginative in forging and maintaining new relationships with the groups most likely to understand the significance of supporting local women’s features, because of their relevance to our daily lives; and most likely to have the capacity to engage in helping to increase audiences.

Established Relationships

Remember that NZFC assertion that ‘international activities serve to strengthen our ties with the international industry and to underline our commitment to working with international partners’? Where are the committed local partners with ties that can be strengthened to enhance distribution, beyond the guilds? To start with, there’s the NZMPIC, the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZFF), and Show Me Shorts.

Although the NZMPIC and its members seem unlikely to adjust their somewhat uneven commitments to publicity and marketing costs for individual releases, I imagine they’d be happy with any project that aims to increase box office for all without requiring much outlay from them.

They might be open, for example, to amplifying *all* — local and international — women-directed movies through using, in all publicity, the internationally well-known F-Rating or A-Rating. These ratings, or tags, like the age-related ratings and warning notes from the Classifications Office, would alert audiences to movies that centre women and girls, especially work that women write and direct, both local or imported; the NZFC could provide the tags for local movies. (The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) uses F-Rating tags.)

The NZFC could also undertake to pay for a billboard (or several) for all local women-written and -directed features in an as-of-right gesture that treats every release equally, an initiative that would benefit NZMPIC members, as advertising they don’t have to pay for.

This would also demonstrate that we truly treasure films written and directed by women and that our wellbeing is enhanced by films like Vai, which comes out in New Zealand cinemas this week, accompanied by the most beautiful art work and international appreciation like Girish Shambu’s– ‘A landmark in the history of cinema…Indigenous cultures share a fundamental connection to place; at the heart of Vai is the pain of fracture of this connection’.

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Just imagine some of that gorgeous Vai art work on billboards at all our international airports, affirming that we love, treasure and are enriched by Pasifika women and their filmmaking!

Then there are the major local film festivals — partially funded by the NZFC — that haven’t yet signed the 50:50 by 2020 charter, even though many ‘big’ festivals where they source their films, like Cannes, have done so.

If the NZFC is serious about ‘the voices and perspectives of women are integral to telling the stories of our country, its culture and communities’ and their global connections, why doesn’t it make its funding contingent on the NZFF and Show Me Shorts signing the charter? Contingent on their helping to promote all New Zealand films, not only those they choose to screen, through their email lists and social media? Contingent on their establishing a local Ballon Rouge to support industry professionals with babies or small children, like the one just announced for the Cannes Marché du Film? The festivals would have to work a little harder and develop some new strategies, but why not encourage them to shake up their practices? And why doesn’t the NZFC offer Māoriland a bonus — and/or a billboard or two (on the motorway?) — because at least 50% of its films have been directed by women, for years now?

Current audiences are sometimes small limited because some people don’t find movies relevant to them; and they are too expensive for many more.(13)

But the NZFC could also work with the festivals on associated programmes within and outside the festivals to group together ‘relevant’ women’s and indigenous work and work from under-represented groups for discussion of social and political wellbeing issues, as well as their cinematic values, with screenings and panel free for all? These would connect local wellbeing and various challenges to it with the inquiries and insights movies can provide *and* increase audiences through reaching those for whom movies are not usually relevant.

And why not, in each edition of the festival, and at appropriate (non-film) conferences, curate a programme about a challenging and relevant contemporary theme that local women and indigenous filmmakers have explored, contextualise it with international women filmmakers’ explorations and invite appropriate contributors to panel discussions that are more in-depth than the usual Q&As with directors? Again, free for all? For instance, suicide and end-of-life choices are current issues, so why not screen Vermilion alongside Paora Joseph’s Maui’s Hook, Nicole Palo’s Emma Peeters and Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur (14)?

Or follow Chicago, where a group of women in prison have just curated a film festival. Now there’s great way to increase audiences by opening up to a wider pool of curatorial expertise!

These kinds of investment would promote narratives and filmmakers that go beyond the dominant ‘collective mythological narrative’, add richness to community dialogues, and over time build audiences for those hungry for ‘other’ points of view, whose hunger has historically been unmet. Appropriate short films and episodes from webseries and television series on similar themes could also screen; any programme curated by Show Me Shorts would be only shorts.

New Relationships

I’ve often referred to the illuminating moment when I learned that most of those within a particular group of professional women I spoke with choose their books according to author gender but don’t choose the films they watch according to the genders of those who write and direct them. From this experience and many individual conversations I’m sure that there are opportunities for audience-building relationships, mediated by the NZFC, especially among women’s groups. As far as I know, there’s just one women’s organisation, the Auckland Women’s Centre, with a regular film screening programme, at an Auckland cinema: it is often sold out.

Thinking opportunistically, our current Governor-General is Dame Patsy Reddy, who used to chair the NZFC board. Why not an event or two or three at Government House? Dedicated to developing conversations about the role of women’s films within debates about pressing contemporary issues and about overall wellbeing? And dedicated to facilitating development of partnerships that help grow wide audiences for films that women make?

These conversations — led by the NZFC — could include women filmmakers *and* key leaders from organisations like the Auckland Women’s Centre, Women’s Refuge, Rape Crisis, the Māori Women’s Welfare League, Rural Women and Global Women, among others? Would they be engaged by opportunities to bridge the current disconnect between women’s filmmaking and potential audiences, to establish women’s film groups with their members, by opportunities to build word of mouth about forthcoming films, by the idea of being film ambassadors? Would they have ideas about offering support for girls and young women who take part in The Outlook for Someday and Māoriland’s Rangatahi programmes, and in film programmes in schools? The Te Puna Foundation, the charity that supports the National Library, has just announced its Communities of Readers project, because–

‘We know that reading for pleasure improves both literacy and wellbeing. This initiative will enable the National Library to work with a small number of communities to strengthen reading engagement.’

Why not a similar project for Communities of Viewers?


New partnerships seem worth an intensive effort. They’re already developed, in pockets, for individual films like Vai, whose partners (AUT, Pasifika Education Centre, Le Va, Pacific Connections — Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Auckland and the Ministry for Pacific Peoples) have helped fund 500 Pacific girls and women to attend Vai’s Auckland premiere screening, as part of its Women of Vai Empowerment Campaign. And it’s been glorious to see, on Facebook, the responses to the Empowerment Campaign and the joy Vai generates. The producers and distributor have done a great job with this element of Vai’s audience. It looks like they couldn’t have done more. The NZFC appears to have supported this campaign, beyond Distribution Grants, too.

But what about the audience’s other elements? Vai’s potential audience is a very broad one because its many beautiful layers pay such loving attention to the lives of Pasifika women and girls and provide multiple representations that will now forever challenge (mis)representations by those who aren’t themselves Pasifika — and not just in films. Seeing Vai at the weekend touched my heart and transformed my understanding of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa and the women and girls who are part of it. Like Waru, Vai illustrates the richness of work that is ‘by and about’ and has the capacity to make a strong contribution to the inter-generational wellbeing of us *all*.

But in central Wellington on Vai’s opening weekend, the cinema was only half full. The taxpayer as represented by the NZFC and its own partners (wherever they might come from) didn’t promote Vai strongly enough to the rest of us, as a magnificent gift to this colonised country in a colonised ocean, at a time when we’re forced to consider how–

‘[Film and other media] are where the modern mythology of hate is incubated…Until the global collective mythological narrative of white male supremacy is changed, script by script, to a lovingly and realistically inclusive story…we are doomed.’

There’s so much that could be done. And I bet you’ve got more and better ideas about how to do it. Or can generate them quite quickly!

And while you do that, I’m off to find a cow onesie, to protest about dairy farming’s effects on our land and waterways. See you outside Parliament, perhaps?

Just as I finished this, Showtools released this video, which shows some differences from the Box Office Mojo figures that I’ve used, but not huge ones; and demonstrates how little return the taxpayer is likely to get from its share of the equity in film.

These results add up to $44,126,678 of box office revenue over a decade. Only a proportion of box office takings will return to the taxpayer via the NZFC, through NZFC’s share of the equity (or to the filmmakers themselves). In the 2018 Annual Report, the ‘Income from Films’ amount ‘distributed to the NZFC’ was $825,151; in 2017 $3,008,265 (the Hunt for the Wilderpeople effect?) and in 2016 $1,622,198. These figures probably include some returns from rights sales. No direct return on Screen Production Grants at all.

If the NZFC was a business it would be required to make a profit. It doesn’t. And because of that small economic return, the NZFC and the taxpayer risk very little if the agency chooses to base its decision-making about investment in local film production and distribution support on wellbeing-related factors, including equitable principles and more community-based involvement, from script assessment to distribution.

PS 16May.

Thank you, Tilda Swinton! *Exactly*!

(a click on the image should take you through, best I could do.)

(1) Since I last looked — a couple of years ago — at director gender in the projects that the International Grant scheme funded, others have (re)contested the scheme’s economic benefits in debates that I don’t have the capacity to engage with, though I can believe that the International Grant may bring some economic benefits and upskilling. A government-appointed group has explored possible changes to the associated controversial Hobbit Law of 2010, too. This law treats film production workers as independent contractors, unless they are party to a written employment agreement that states that they’re employees; it effectively denies them the rights enjoyed by other New Zealand workers to bargain collectively under the Employment Relations Act. The Hobbit Law’s complexities are also beyond me, though it ‘feels’ wrong. (For more info about the Screen Production Grant, see Evaluating the Screen Production Grant and various articles by Matt Nippert, e.g. here and here.)

(2) The next NZFC Annual Report is likely to document grants to Mulan directed by Niki Caro and the television series of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, directed by Claire McCarthy, but I doubt whether this will make much difference to, say, a three-year analysis. The films included in the analysis are: Beijing Safari; Blade Runner; Ghost In The Shell; Marvels Spider Man; Mortal Engines; Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets; Alien: Covenant; Pete’s Dragon; Mortal Engines; Wolf Warrior 2; Justice League; Murder On The Orient Express; Thor: Ragnorak; Maze Runner: The Death Cure; Mission Impossible Fallout; Animal World; A Wrinkle In Time; Wonder Woman.

(3) Others, like the Swedish Film Institute — the global leader in best practices for national agencies — also provide statistics. The Irish Film Board’s work is useful. Canada has a variety of agencies and initiatives and statistical practices associated with them.

Screen Australia statistics are not helpful in this context, because although its Gender Matters aim is that ‘half of the projects that receive production funding will have women occupying at least 50% of key creative roles’, when counting towards its Key Performance Indicators (KPI), it includes the protagonist’s gender as a ‘key creative role’, alongside writer, director, producer. This makes it possible for all those projects to have men as writers and directors and still be counted as a contribution to ‘progress’ and ‘success’. In addition, although many research projects have established that women-directed projects receive less funding than those directed by men, the KPI is based on the number of successful applications rather than funding dollars. Finally it excludes development funding from the KPI, so there’s no analysis of whether projects written and directed by women receive more or less investment towards reaching production.

(4) See for instance, note (3), above, on Screen Australia’s Gender Matters practices which actively promote this colonisation. And see also, Briony Kidd’s article about the Australian actor-writer-director with a record of multiple arrests for violence against women, who has said recently “I love writing for women, I love working with two fabulous, intelligent, wonderful actresses and I’m not just saying that because they’re here — they are, and I really enjoy actually telling female stories…I’m a male writer-director, but we have a 95 percent female crew. I tried to write great roles for women in this movie, and I do think that it’s a really important thing to do. It’s a long time coming…If I’m going to write and direct something, I’m going to want to surround myself with as many strong, intelligent women as I can.” Briony Kidd asks some excellent questions about this.

(5) Like the International Grant, this is available after production is complete and paid for and sometimes in a different financial year than the NZFC’s original production investment; where this happened I included the original production investment in my calculations. The local films included are: The Stolen; Kiwi Christmas; The Changeover (all received Screen Production Grants); and Reunion; Daffodils; Baby, Done; Guns Akimbo; Savage; Waru; Hang Time; Vai. Some of these may be eligible for Screen Production Grants that will appear in the next Annual Report; and I haven’t included any taxpayer funding received from other sources like New Zealand on Air or Te Mangai Paho.

(6) This may be a less of an issue for Māori men directors, six of whose features are in the Top Twenty Films at the New Zealand Box Office, and who have strongly established story sovereignty for Māori; and it may become become less of an issue for Māori and Pasifika women, thanks to recent ‘by and about’ Māori and Pasifika women-made features: Waru; Vai; the forthcoming Cousins and Same but Different; thanks to the shared directing in three of these and in The Breaker Upperers; thanks to all those who work on narrative webseries like Friday Night Bites and Baby Mama’s Club that also embrace intersectionality and build audiences with imagination and skill; thanks to the new Pan-Asian Screen Collective; thanks to Māoriland’s and others’ dedicated and imaginative hard work with rangatahi; and thanks to Māoriland’s extraordinary holistic and inclusive framework that connects filmmaking to what’s going on in the world right now, exhibiting indigenous films alongside other art forms and a series of associated inspiring events; and within a kaupapa committed to practices that contribute to a healthier mother earth. But sustaining a film practice will always be a challenge for women who also live with an amplified gender pay gap: Māori women, Pasifika women, Asian women.

(7) The Distribution Grants at the moment include five categories, with discretion for at least two more–

  1. Publicity and Advertising (P& A Grant), for activities usually associated with a theatrical release of a feature film: up to NZ$50,000 to cover up to 25 percent of publicity and/or advertising spend for the theatrical release of a New Zealand film in New Zealand. The distributors anticipate a box office and create their marketing spend around that. In exceptional circumstances the NZFC may provide a higher amount, as a loan, under exceptional circumstances established by the distributor not the NZFC. Any decisions about a loan would need to be made by the CEO and COO and the NZFC has never provided a higher amount as a loan.
  2. Virtual Print Fees payable to cinemas, at $500 per screen if there are agreements to screen the film in at least five cinemas across two major cities over a three-month period. These may soon become obsolete.
  3. Innovation Grant to support a strategy which aims to access new or non-traditional theatrical audiences through innovative and fresh approaches to releasing or promoting a film — up to 90 percent of the projected cost, to a maximum of $25,000, may be in addition to a P&A Grant for a larger-scale film release.
  4. Box Office Sales Grant, for those who have a P&A and/or an Innovation Grant for theatrical distribution — up to $1000 per film, to cover the costs of reporting box office sales via a third party organisation such as Rentrak or Numero.
  5. $7,000 is the maximum grant for films funded independently of the NZFC and without a recognised distributor attached.

Distributors with a release strategy which exceeds the P & A Grant cap would need to demonstrate increased audience reach and revenue estimates to access discretionary grants not mentioned in the guidelines, made after negotiations with the distributor.

There’s ‘in season support’, an additional amount the NZFC occasionally pays if a film does particularly well over its opening weekend and picks up additional screens in its second week. It is matched by the distributor dollar for dollar so they can continue to advertise the film after it has already opened.

And premiere support is also occasionally offered if paying 25% of premiere costs through the P & A grant is not feasible for a distributor, due to the size or scope of the planned event. This $5K grant is usually less than the 25% the distributor would get via the P & A grant.

Warm thanks to NZFC staff for helping me make sense of these grants.

(8) According to Merata Mita’s biography at NZ On Screen, ‘local cinema chains weren’t interested (at this time documentaries rarely played in Kiwi cinemas, outside of film festivals). Patu! was invited to film festivals around the globe’. But I think Patu! did screen in some New Zealand cinemas and her Awatea Films is listed as sole distributor on imdb. Happy to be corrected about this, of course, as with anything else!

(9) The Swedish Film Institute’s Anna Serner visited New Zealand, and the NZFC, in 2018, so perhaps ‘relevance’ will become part of its gender strategy.

(10) According to Box Office Mojo, The Great Maiden’s Blush took $46,213 at the Box Office in 2016. It came in at 182 on the list for that year. At 174 was The Rehearsal, in which the NZFC invested $1,760,360 for production and $42,500 for theatrical release support.

(11) Waru received more, $50,744, and the totals for Vai and Daffodils are not yet available.

(12) The Distribution Grants for Pork Pie and The Breaker Upperers were larger than many and made up of the following components–

Pork Pie ($123,500) P & A grant $50,000; VPF grant for 85 screens at $500 per screen $42,500 Innovation Grant $25,000; BOS Grant $1,000; Film Premiere support $5,000

The Breaker-Upperers ($119,255) P & A grant $50,000; VPF grant for 57 screens at $500 per screen $28,500; BOS grant $1,000; Innovation grant $24,755; In season support $15,000

(13) These just out, from Deadline, illuminate related issues (for North Americans but also perhaps for New Zealanders).

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(14) New Zealand’s youth suicide rates were the second highest in the OECD in 2011; and last year’s overall number of self-inflicted deaths rose to a new high of 668–13.67 per 100,000 of population, with Māori disproportionately represented (97 men and 45 women).

Originally published at

Written by

Marian Evans. Stories by & about women artists, writers and filmmakers. Global outlook, from Aotearoa New Zealand.

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