The New Zealand Film Commission: promoting an industry, forging a national identity

The New Zealand Film Commission: promoting an industry, forging a national identity

Gregory A. Waller

I am prepared to fight for a film industry because I think it’s something special. Even Iceland has a feature film industry! It’s like a flagship for a country. It’s telling people we exist. (Vincent Ward [1])

Between 1977 and 1992 there were 63 feature films (and 15 co-productions) produced in New Zealand, including films by soon-to-be expatriots Geoff Murphy (The Quiet Earth [1986]), Roger Donaldson (Smash Palace [1982]); and Vincent Ward (Vigil [1984]), as well as goremeister extraordinaire Peter Jackson (Brain Dead [1992]) and internationally acclaimed auteur Jane Campion (An Angel at My Table [1992]) [2]. West German television presented several New Zealand films in 1982, as did the BBC in 1987. New Zealand film ‘festivals’ were held in London (1981), Toronto (1982), Berlin (1985) and Tokyo (1986), and major retrospectives were staged at, for example, the Cinematheque Francaise (1983, 1987), the American Film Institute (1985), the Pacific Film Archives (1985), the UCLA Film and Television Archives (1990) and the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art (1992). New Zealand film became the subject of a special ‘dossier’ in Variety’s 1991 International Film Guide, as well as of a handful of interpretive articles in media, arts, and sociology journals, and four books, including Te Ao Marama: il mondo della luce: il cinema della Nuova Zealand (1989), the catalogue for an extensive retrospective held in Torino [3].

These publications and overseas screenings do not simply attest to the visibility of the New Zealand film industry between 1977 and 1992. In different ways, they help to constitute this industry, to mark and market it as a national commodity, to identify and showcase it as a subject for study and appreciation [4]. The New Zealand cinema can be and has been defined in terms of actual films produced, acknowledged auteurs, festival screenings, historical overviews and analytical readings [5]. I do not propose here to displace or somehow ‘correct’ these sometimes contradictory ways of articulating a national cinema, but to traverse another discursive terrain in that area broadly termed ‘film culture'[6]. I am interested in the role played by the government-constituted and funded New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) and by matters of film-related cultural policy articulated in position papers, formal proposals, working group reports, and parliamentary debates and taken up, in turn, by local newspapers, general-interest magazines, and the trade journal, Onfilm.

The New Zealand Film Commission is an institution best understood not only in terms of its products and finances, but also in terms of its pre-history, policy statements and participation in a broader cultural discourse. We could, perhaps, dismiss this discourse as being contradictory, polemical, politically expedient, inexpert and ‘naive’ theoretically. But these very qualities underscore its significance, particularly if we are willing to take a nation’s film history to include – as I think we must – the way officials, journalists and members of the industry speak about the role of and the rationale for feature filmmaking.

Thus the questions that govern my inquiry are: what arguments were offered in New Zealand in support of the development of a government-assisted feature film industry this late in the twentieth century, during a period of ‘economic instability characterized by high and persistent inflation, generally declining terms of trade, and growing unemployment’? [7] How and why did concerns about national identity, cultural imperialism and the international marketplace figure in the creation, justification, fiscal decisions and policy making of the New Zealand Film Commission during the 1970s and 1980s? Viewed in these terms, New Zealand, which has moved during the last twenty years toward an official commitment to biculturalism, re-configured its relation to the United States, Great Britain and the South Pacific, and embraced ‘free-market’ economics, offers a significant (and manageable) postcolonial test case that can complement studies of larger national cinemas, like Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka’s comprehensive analysis of the post-1970 Australian film industry.

Making the Case for a New Zealand Feature Film Industry

The Motion Picture Industry Committee called upon to survey the situation in New Zealand in 1949 assumed without question that there were basically two kinds of motion pictures: non-fiction film (documentaries, promotional films, travelogues, etc.) and ‘entertainment film’. The former was the purview of the government-funded National Film Unit, established in 1941 after an advisory visit by John Grierson. As for the latter, private investors were welcome to have a go, but there was, the committee’s report declared, ‘no case made out for the expenditure of public money on such a project’ [8]. When a case began to be made some twenty years later – after, most obviously, the international success of European art cinema and the arrival of television – fiction (or, better put, non-National Film Unit) film was conceived of in other than exclusively market-driven, merely ‘entertainment’ terms. Its value and therefore its worthiness as beneficiary of ‘public money’ rose accordingly.

In 1960, the Department of Internal Affairs regularized its financial assistance to the arts by the creation of an Arts Advisory Council, which was succeeded in 1964 by the Queen Elizabeth the Second Arts Council (commonly referred to as the QEII Arts Council or simply the Arts Council). Commissioned by Parliament to ‘encourage, foster, and promote the arts in New Zealand’, the Arts Council’s initial public policy statement refers explicitly to ballet, drama, orchestral music, opera, visual arts, brass bands and choirs, but not to film. Its avowed commitment was above all to the ‘creative artist’, with the important proviso that the council’s ‘principal objective … will be the encouragement of activities that are professional in character and standard’ [9].

Film did, however, become of direct concern when the Arts Council, as part of a more general government-driven assessment of ‘National Development’, organized ‘Arts Conference ’70’. This three-day meeting included a symposium on ‘The Role of Film and Television in Establishing a Nation’s Identity’ [10]. The conference passed two film-related resolutions: one calling for the establishment of a National Screen Organization responsible for financing, exporting and archiving New Zealand film and television; the second urging the Arts Council to encourage educational work in ‘the visual media’, to survey the ‘influence’ of these media on New Zealand society, and to ‘foster creative activity in films for cinema and television’ [11]. While the resolutions did not single out any specific type of film, they did link film and television. The point about ‘creative activity’, however, suggests that what the conference had in mind was not television per se, but rather televised films. The resolutions do not directly mention the ‘establishment’ of national identity, though they unequivocally call upon the government to support the production, preservation, and appreciation of New Zealand film. Why? Because filmmaking was assumed to be a creative, professional endeavor, an art worth fostering, as demonstrated by the European auteurs whose works graced the film society circuit.

Out of Arts Conference ’70 came the formally constituted Film Industry Working Party, which in October 1973 forwarded its ‘Proposal for a National Screen Organisation’ to the Committee on Broadcasting. This proposed organization would be responsible for ‘encouraging the capacity of screen production in New Zealand to realise production of significant cultural worth’. ‘Cultural’ was synonymous here with ‘screen art’, which, in turn, was perfectly compatible with what the Working Party called the New Zealand ‘screen industry’. Thus the proposal argued that the best way to ‘facilitate the work of every kind of screen artist’ was to establish by statute an overseeing agency whose board of directors would include not only artists, but also representatives of the motion picture industry and experts in broadcasting and finance. So constituted, a National Screen Organisation would assist the country’s nascent film industry and its screen artists, both of whom had long suffered under the burden of ‘extensive alien competition’ [12].

The Final Report of the Film Industry Working Party that was delivered to the QE II Arts Council in April 1975 called for a ban on imported commercials and a quota system for New Zealand-produced programming on the nation’s two television networks; the development of a range of educational initiatives designed to, among other things, promote ‘appreciation within New Zealand of the motion picture as an art form’; and the creation and funding of an interim New Zealand Motion Picture Council, entrusted with the task of ‘establishing a viable motion picture industry in this country’. This commitment to a New Zealand motion picture industry meant a commitment to feature films, since the Working Party reasoned that ‘a country does not have a film industry until feature films are made on a reasonably regular basis’. The other kind of motion picture specifically acknowledged was the ‘experimental or personal’ film, which the proposed New Zealand Motion Picture Council would also fund [13].

The Working Party’s recommendations were spelled out in some detail and were buttressed by an argument that government support of film would ‘yield great social, artistic, and economic benefits’. While the report did not elaborate on what New Zealand stood to gain economically from this investment in filmmaking as ‘artistic resource’ and creative ‘expression’, it did present what it called a ‘social’ rationale, based on the assumption that ‘motion pictures are the most potent communications force for social development and change’. Driven by deep concern over a marketplace thoroughly dominated by foreign-made product, the Working Party invoked the principal of spectatorial ‘right’: ‘New Zealanders have a right to see films and television programmes related to what is important to New Zealanders’, for ‘motion pictures made in New Zealand … can have a more intimate and immediate relevance to our lives’. Indeed, the Working Party’s self-styled ‘main argument’ for a viable, national (or ‘indigenous’ – the terms are in this document interchangeable) film industry is that it will ‘ensure that New Zealanders are not subjected to a constant diet of programmes from other cultures’. Once up and running, this industry will (inevitably?) produce films that, the report quite optimistically believed, ‘reflect our way of life with truth and artistry showing New Zealand to New Zealanders and the world’ [14].

The Film Industry Working Party’s Final Report offers no explanation concerning how ‘reflection’ is related to ‘relevance’ and whether the cinematic representation of ‘our way of life’ could or should serve as a catalyst to ‘social development and change’. More significant, ‘truth’ and ‘art’ are here assumed to be unproblematic concepts (and goals), as are the cojoined notions of ‘New Zealand’, ‘New Zealanders’ and ‘our way of life’ [15]. This at a time when the social dynamics of the country were being altered by an massive influx of Polynesian – as opposed to European – immigrants and a Maori ‘cultural resurgence’ [16]. Informing the Working Party’s entire argument is the fear that New Zealanders are or will (again) become ‘subjected’ to foreign domination; an indigenous film industry thus looks to be a main line of defense against cultural imperialism. ‘Is there any area of New Zealand life’, university lecturer Roger Horrocks would rhetorically ask several years later, ‘that has been dominated by American products as consistently as the cinema?’ [17]

After the Film Industry Working Party filed its final report, the Arts Council went on record in favor of the government establishing a ‘film development fund’ that would offer a ‘comprehensive support system for the industry’ [18]. Arguments concerning state support for a film industry were also broached in parliamentary debate on the 1975 Appropriation Bill, though given the effects of the first oil crisis and a significant drop in wool prices, this was hardly a propitious moment for a new ‘arts’ initiative. Member of Parliament – and future Labour Party leader – Mike Moore flatly declared that ‘the desire to achieve a State-financed but independent cinema should be part of this Government’s commitment to nationhood’, since the current domination of local screens by American product ‘is robbing New Zealand of a chance to contribute its own distinctive view’ [19]. Again, the univocality of this ‘view’ was taken for granted, as was the value of a government-promoted and financed, yet still somehow ‘independent’ sense of ‘nationhood’.

It was not until October 1977, however, that Minister for the Arts Allen Highet created an Interim Film Commission, based quite closely on a ‘Proposal to Establish a New Zealand Film Production Commission’. This proposal was written by Jim Booth, then of the Cultural Branch of the Department of Internal Affairs, and later to serve as assistant director of the QE II Arts Council and executive director of the New Zealand Film Commission (1983-1988) before becoming an independent producer of films such as Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles (1990) and Brain Dead. With the model of the then-expanding Australian film industry in mind, Booth insisted that any such film commission in New Zealand be run ‘strictly on an investment basis with an eye very firmly on the market’, meaning that the funding of ‘art’ or ‘experimental’ films remain the purview of the Arts Council and that the production of government-sponsored films be left to the National Film Unit [20]. Nevertheless, the commission envisioned in this proposal would ‘be concerned with a wide range of product’, including short films, co-productions and tele-films, though without question its primary focus would be feature films. The ‘benefits’ of a ‘market-oriented’ film commission ‘will be immense’, Booth concludes, in terms of promoting, first, ‘cinematograph expressions particular to New Zealand, to counter the largely unrelieved diet of films from foreign cultures’; and, second, exportable, income-generating product that will ‘do much to announce the existence of New Zealand to the world at large’ and so begin to counter the country’s notorious ‘antipodean cultural cringe’ [21]. These are distinct, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, ends, neither of which has much to do with reflecting the truth, nurturing indigenous artistry, or forging national identity. Booth’s claim for film’s cost-effective, declamatory power in the international arena would be echoed later by assertions in the press that ‘there is no better nor cheaper publicity for this country than its feature films’ and that film is not so much a way to induce change or national self-awareness as a way of ‘fostering a collective self-confidence’ for a small country given to cringing [22].

One of the designated responsibilities of the Interim Film Conference was to advise the Minister for the Arts about legislation to create a permanent commission. In this capacity the Interim Film Commission prepared ‘Towards a New Zealand Motion Picture Production Policy’ (February 1978) and ‘Design for the Motion Picture Production Industry’ (May 1978). The first of these reports directly repeated Booth’s comment about the ‘unrelieved diet’ of foreign films, while it also – somewhat contradictorily – actively encouraged ‘co-productions with other countries’. The Interim Film Commission stressed the social utility of a thriving feature-film industry, which would allow filmmakers to ‘capture visual images of the way we are and the way we feel and think … to expand our knowledge of ourselves’. ‘How else’, the report asked, ‘can we come to cherish a picture of our nation’s past and a vision of its future?’ [23] Motion pictures, in other words, are intimately bound up with, literally indispensable in leading citizens toward the self-knowledge that is national identity.

The Interim Film Commission also acknowledged that this cinematically captured, cherishable national identity was at the same time a regional identity. While it did not seek to create ‘a romantic Hollywood of the South Pacific’, it did insist that feature film production was a vitally important means through which New Zealand could come to ‘greater awareness’ of its ‘role and responsibility as a populous and developing South Pacific nation’ [24]. Such high-minded aspirations, repeated almost verbatim by Minister Highet when he introduced the ‘New Zealand Film Commission Bill’ in Parliament and publicly announced the formation of the NZFC in 1978 [25], may sound suitably vague and non-controversial. The political climate at the time would suggest otherwise. Labour’s foreign policy in the 1970s had a decidedly ‘Pacific orientation’, including an active stand against French nuclear testing in the region. In response, the more conservative National Party, which came to power in 1975, sought, according to one historian, to ‘re-emphasize New Zealand’s traditional links with the English-speaking and Western European world’ [26]. In this context, touting the regional advantages of a New Zealand film industry could signify, among other things, a commitment to multiculturalism or an acknowledgement of new economic and political priorities or even a way of relegating regional concerns to the realm of the ‘merely’ cultural. (Three NZFC-sponsored feature films directly address what could be termed ‘regional’ South Pacific concerns: The Silent One [1984], filmed in the Cook Islands, and Sons for the Return Home [1979] and Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree [1990], both of which have Samoan protagonists.)

The second of the Interim Film Commission’s reports took a quite different approach, for it almost single-mindedly insisted that government support for a New Zealand feature film industry ‘is justified on economic reasons alone’ [27]. Charts and cost projections detail employment prospects, export revenue, tax earnings, and so on. The only grander claim (repeated twice verbatim) is that a well-managed film industry ‘has considerable potential to give New Zealanders the economic, morale [sic] and cultural benefits that are so needed in these difficult times’ [28]. With rising unemployment, high inflation and increasing budget deficits, the times were indeed difficult and – the logic here ran – the need greater for a film industry whose prime benefits were not ‘morale and cultural’ but economic and quantifiable.

Jacka & Dermody identify ‘two major framing discourses of Australian film’: one emphasizing matters of national identity, social concerns, local audiences and art; the other emphasizing the business of entertainment, commercialism and the international market [29]. The official documents that pushed for and helped dictate the legislatively mandated role of the NZFC foreground similar concerns but without posing them in strictly oppositional terms. Broadly speaking, during the 1970s, arguments based on the state’s responsibility to screen art and individual creativity gave way to explicitly economic rationales. The most constant refrain in this discourse, however, was the argument that film – and, more precisely, a local feature film industry – significantly contributes to national identity, an abstraction which could, as I have shown, be understood in quite different ways even in a series of non-specialist, non-controversial documents securely anchored within the bounds of governmental, public service discourse.

A Journal of the Boom Years, 1978-1984

Through an Act of Parliament, the NZFC formally came into existence on 12 October 1978. It was designed very much along the lines laid out by the Interim Film Commission, and its chair from 1978-1985 was William Sheat, who had served as head of the QEII Arts Council, the Film Industry Working Party and the Interim Film Commission [30]. In addition to the chair, the NZFC governing board was composed of a representative of the Secretary for Internal Affairs and five appointed members. The administrative staff included an executive director (Don Blakeney, who soon left to become an independent producer) and a marketing director (Lindsay Shelton, who remained in this capacity through the entire period under consideration). What an industry commentator noted in 1985 seems to have been basically true for all of Sheat’s term: the ‘composition of the Film Commission is pakeha [European, white], professional, and predominantly male’, with ‘effective control’ of decision making vested in the chair, deputy chair, and executive staff [31]. Taking over from Sheat as chair in 1985 was David Gascoigne, a Wellington lawyer who had much the same background, having served as deputy chair of the NZFC since its inception, as well as president of the New Zealand Federation of Film Societies and chair of the Film Panel and the Visual Arts Panel of the QEII Arts Council [32].

The NZFC received funds from the Department of Internal Affairs to cover administrative costs, as well as an annual grant from the Lottery Board (which was not, technically speaking, ‘government’ money, but derived instead from gaming revenues; the Lottery Board also contributed substantial sums to the Arts Council and the Hillary Commission) [33]. Between 1979 and 1982, the Internal Affairs contribution grew from NZ$46,000 to NZ$194,000, while the Lottery Board funds went from NZ$640,000 to NZ$800,000. With this modest budget the commission was to fulfil several functions: ‘to encourage and also to participate and assist in the making, promotion, distribution, and exhibition of films’; to support archival and educational activities; and to ‘encourage and promote cohesion within the New Zealand film industry’. For all intents and purposes, ‘film’ had become synonymous with ‘film industry’. And any film given assistance by the NZFC was required by law to have ‘significant New Zealand content’, which could be determined by the ‘subject’ of the film, the shooting locations, site of technical facilities and the ‘nationalities and places of residence’ of investors, copyright holders or filmmakers (including producers, writers, actors) [34]. These criteria drew upon quite different conceptualizations of the filmic text (as defined by narrative and thematic concerns, authorship, ownership, diegetic referent), making apparent the problems that can arise in attributing some sort of ‘national’ identity to an individual feature film designed for general release [35]. (The Piano [1993] – ‘claimable’ by Australia, New Zealand and France, not to mention Jane Campion – is an obvious recent example.) The Act also insisted that the NZFC ‘have due regard to the observance of standards that are generally acceptable in the community’. This, too, could be taken as another way of defining a ‘New Zealand film’, with the nation here being conceived of as a ‘community’ with certain [moral] ‘standards’ [36].

The NZFC’s policy is articulated in, among other publications, the report it is required to present to the House of Representatives each year. The first such report (submitted in June 1979) is the most detailed in this respect, since it also includes a history of how the NZFC came into being, giving much credit to the Film Industry Working Party and to independent filmmakers in the 1970s like Geoff Murphy (Wild Man [1977]) and Roger Donaldson (Sleeping Dogs [1977]), who had proved the viability of New Zealand feature films [37]. According to this narrative of origins, the feature film industry was launched, in ideal democratic welfare state fashion, through the efforts of a few dedicated filmmakers whose ‘momentum’ was then recognized and ‘sustained’ by a responsive government bureaucracy, which provided the funding and the expertise for a ‘central advisory body’, the NZFC. Politicians, audiences and profit-minded producers don’t figure in this account [38].

As laid out in its annual reports, the NZFC’s goal was nothing less than forging an ‘indigenous motion picture industry’, which was described in terms often borrowed directly from Booth’s policy statement and the Interim Film Commission’s ‘Towards a Motion Picture Production Policy’. Thus, for example, there is very little talk of ‘screen art’ and ‘creative expression’, while there is a strongly stated commitment by the NZFC to promote ‘cinematograph expressions particular to New Zealand’, which would ‘counter the largely unrelieved diet of films from foreign cultures’, serve as a means of national self-understanding, and increase awareness of New Zealand’s ‘role and responsibility as a populous and developing South Pacific nation’ [39]. As Shear told the Australian magazine Cinema Papers for its special ‘New Zealand Supplement’ in 1980: ‘We certainly used the cultural one [argument for government funding], and the whole question of national identity – the fact that our media were swamped with imported product and the need for New Zealanders to be able to identify with something of a New Zealand nature’ [40]. Minister of the Arts Highet had also used much the same argument before Parliament when he called for ‘essentially New Zealand films of cultural value which interpret the New Zealand experience to New Zealanders’ [41]. It was especially on the basis of their ‘considerable cultural and social value’ that the NZFC touted the first three full-length films it had invested in: A State of Siege (1978), Angel Mine (1978) and Skin Deep (1979).

The NZFC garnered positive press coverage in newspapers and magazines like the National Business Review [42], and it clearly had a substantive, immediate effect on the local industry. During the March 1980-March 1981 fiscal year, for example, the NZFC invested in three productions and evaluated eighty applications for developmental assistance, awarding funds to twenty feature and six short film projects [43]. All told, between 1979 and 1982, eleven feature films were released that had been produced at least in part with NZFC funds, as well as two features with completely private investment and four privately funded co-productions. In its glossy 1981 publicity brochure, the NZFC could tout, among New Zealand’s ‘New Films’, Beyond Reasonable Doubt (1980), Goodbye Pork Pie (1981), The Scarecrow (1982), and Smash Palace [44].

The most significant determinant on the New Zealand film industry during the early 1980s, however, was neither NZFC funding nor home talent. Rather, it was a tax shelter system that allowed substantial, immediate write-offs for investment in the production of ‘New Zealand’ films. Existing policy even permitted investors to claim tax liability for monies contributed by the NZFC. The NZFC brought the situation to the attention of the Inland Revenue Department, whose extensive investigation of film investors would drag on through most of the decade, strongly discouraging private investment in the New Zealand film industry. Instead of modifying the tax system along the lines of the Australian model as the NZFC had suggested, the National government in its August 1982 budget closed the loophole, prohibiting so-called ‘geared up’ investments and extending the write-off period for feature film production to 24 months [45]. Any project already initiated under the old system could retain its original tax status if a ‘double-head fine cut’ (that is, a version shot and edited to its final length, but not necessary finished with post-production) was completed by 30 September 1984. Complicating matters further, in December 1983, an amendment to the Income Tax Bill reduced the write-off period for ‘certified’ New Zealand films from 24 to 12 months. Certification remained the responsibility of the NZFC, putting it potentially in conflict with financiers and the Independent Producers and Directors Guild [46]. The effect of these policy changes was to boost film production dramatically in the short term, but only for projects initiated under the old system. As a result, twenty New Zealand features and three co-productions were released in 1984-1985, more than in 1986-1989 combined.

NZFC annual reports between 1980-1983 trumpeted the growth of the industry. Cited as a decidedly positive sign were overseas sales, which brought export earnings into the country while ‘making New Zealand more readily identifiable and known in the world community’ [47]. With a total population in 1981 of 3.1 million, the New Zealand market could not by itself support a feature film industry. ‘Overseas sales are essential’, concluded Nick Roddick, who surveyed ‘with guarded optimism’ the New Zealand film industry for Films and Filming in 1982 [48]. Marketing gained more prominence as the NZFC began to showcase local product at the annual MIP-TV market (beginning in 1979), the Cannes Film Festival (beginning in 1980), and the MIFED market in Milan (beginning in 1981). In addition to its yearly catalogues, the NZFC published three times a year New Zealand Film (later NZ Film) an illustrated promotional magazine with production information, snippets of (positive) reviews, and much emphasis on overseas awards, screenings and sales [49].

The NZFC also insisted that its success could be gauged in terms of public discourse, that is, what it referred to as the ‘widespread and positive public discussion not only of the films themselves but also about the subjects and attitudes revealed on the screen, and how these can lead to a better understanding of the New Zealand character and way of life’ [50]. Concrete examples of such discourse are notoriously difficult to come by, and ‘understanding’ on this order resists quantification. More accessible are the steady stream of movie reviews (usually bending over backwards to support local product) in newspapers and magazines like the widely-read Listener and Auckland’s Metro, as well as editorials boosting the film industry and the NZFC. The Christchurch Press, for instance, applauded the industry in September 1981 for ‘fostering a cultural self-confidence and independence’ and for breaking into international markets, thereby generating ‘immediate economic return’ and doing ‘much to project New Zealand overseas’. Other newspapers in large and small cities across the nation echoed this refrain, and often came out quite strongly in favor of some sort of government ‘protection’ or ‘encouragement’ of the film industry after the closing of tax loopholes in 1982 [51].

Yet, in retrospect, few commentators from within the industry – even among producers – found much to praise about the old tax incentive system, which the NZFC had deemed ‘undesirable’ and the source of the ‘greatest concern’ [52]. Looking back several years later, Geoff Murphy saw in the ‘legalised fraud’ of the tax shelter period an inducement to deal making rather than filmmaking that motored ‘a boom which all but destroyed the New Zealand film industry’ [53]. Writing in the new trade magazine, Onfilm, Bruce Jesson argued that with the encouragement of overseas investment had come an increasing commercialization of the industry, signalled, for example, by the shift from ‘director’s projects’ to ‘producer’s projects’. Joint venture schemes between New Zealand investment banks and companies like RKO, Jesson argued, amounted to nothing less than ‘an Americanization of the industry’ that ‘decapitates’ its creativity [54]. By the mid-1980s, much of the discourse about the film industry came to operate within a pessimistic culture-versus-commerce scenario that had not been nearly as prominent in the 1970s. The NZFC’s 1985 annual report, for example, began with the assertion that ‘a film industry is about culture and money. It involves an endless tug of war between finance, investment and economic returns on the one hand and art, culture and national identity on the other’ [55].

Living with the ‘Free Market’

By way of compensating for closing the tax loophole that had boosted film production, the National budget in 1982 allocated a NZ$1.75 million ‘government grant’ to the NZFC, setting a precedent for the rest of the decade. With government grants, Lottery Board funds, an Internal Affairs administration grant, and income from previous film investments, the NZFC had NZ$3.4 to work with in 1983 and NZ$3.8 million in 1984 and 1985 [56]. The commission may have aspired toward having a reduced ‘investment role’, but it was for all purposes the only game in town, causing some anxiety for those independent producers who did not want to be reliant on ‘totally centralised grant type money’ [57]. After Labour’s victory in the 1984 elections, the Minister for the Arts predicted new tax incentives to encourage investment in feature production and even identified film as the ‘third dimension in our foreign policy’ [58] Expectations ran high, reasoned Bruce Jesson, in part because Labour ‘has always been the political party most committed to the development of a distinctly New Zealand identity’ [59]. While Labour’s 1984 budget included no changes in tax policy, Prime Minister David Lange came out publicly in favor of a ‘New Zealand feature film industry’, which ‘can make us think about what we are’ and ‘make statements about New Zealand overseas which are worth immeasurable amounts to us in focusing attention on New Zealand’ [60].

After lobbying efforts by the newly formed Guild of Film and Television Arts and other organizations, the Labour government did provide additional support for the film industry, in the form of a NZ$3 million grant increase instead of tax incentives [61]. With substantial increases in Lottery Board funding after 1988, the NZFC’s total annual budget rose from NZ$7.3 in 1986 to NZ$14.5 million in 1991, a period in which Labour, directed by Minister of Finance Roger Douglas, instituted supply-side, ‘market-liberal’ economic policies ‘aimed at dismantling the infrastructure of economic regulations and restrictions that had been built up by successive governments over fifty years’. Labour’s commitment to the NZFC came at a time when Air New Zealand, Telecom, the Government Printing Office, and other former ‘public service’ government enterprises were sold off [62]. Perhaps more important, as far as the NZFC was concerned, the watchwords of ‘Rogernomics’ were efficiency, accountability, and decentralization, and the goal was what historian Gary Hawke calls ‘a reorientation of New Zealand firms and enterprises towards being international businesses rather than providers to a protected domestic market’ [63]. The situation was comparable in Australia, where the film industry was forced, in Jacka’s phrase, to ‘accommodate the dominant rationalist requirements of accountability’ [64].

The NZFC’s 1984 guidelines had placed increased emphasis on fiscal matters, particularly ‘the appropriateness of the budget to both the project and the potential market’. Furthermore, as Lindsay Shelton put it, ‘our need for the American market is one of the many facts of life’ [65]. Under the direction of Executive Director Jim Booth and new chair David Gascoigne, the NZFC in 1986 formulated a revised statement of ‘Role and Operation’, geared toward the production of ‘first class films of international calibre’. (The vagueness here is strategic, though one frequently cited model of ‘international’ success in the late 1980s was the Australian blockbuster, Crocodile Dundee [1986].) The principal change was the introduction of Producer Oriented Development Schemes (PODS), which allocated funds to established production houses for project development. These were designed to ‘reduce the centralising influence’ of the NZFC and to ‘devolve both responsibility and accountability’ to ‘experienced producers’ [66]. NZ$100,000 was spent on PODS in 1987 and NZ$200,000 in 1988, under the assumption that this would lead to ‘strong feature film scripts, with appeal to audiences both here and overseas’. To the same end, the NZFC announced in 1989 a new ‘Super PODS scheme … available to market-proven producers’ who were ‘develop[ing] feature film projects for the domestic market with demonstrated sales potential overseas’ [67]. Projects developed through these ‘schemes’ – indeed, all feature film projects that sought NZFC funding (and at this point there still was virtually no other New Zealand funding available for feature film production; a situation not helped by the severe economic crisis caused by the 1987 stock market crash) – would have to meet the commission’s more stringent 1989 guidelines, which insisted that each project demonstrate the potential for: achieving theatrical distribution in at least three major offshore markets; reaching a New Zealand box office take of $100,000; and returning net earnings equal to at least 50 per cent of costs [68]. At the same time, the commission continued to underscore the importance of pre-sale agreements and began to put more emphasis on trained ‘script consultants’ and to demand completion guarantees to help control cost overruns [69].

Out of the NZFC’s much-publicized attempt to ‘revive’ the industry in 1989 by deciding to fund five feature productions with either direct investment or loans secured against presales to overseas markets came the commission’s most acclaimed and biggest earning film up to that date, Jane Campion’s An Angel at My Table (originally designed as a mini-series), as well Gaylene Preston’s Ruby and Rata (1990), which had good success in domestic theatrical release and was sold to Channel Four in the United Kingdom and to Canada, and Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles, which had a theatrical run in Australia and was also sold for distribution in Canada, Germany, Belgium, Israel and Japan [70].

Like the Labour government, the NZFC endorsed fiscal ‘realism’, decentralization, internationalism and market-driven decision-making. But Lange’s administration was not in all respects the conservative, downunder counterpart of Reaganism [71]. In contrast to the previous National government, Labour adopted a nuclear-free stance that defied the USA, and it was much more responsive to Maori demands for full biculturalism. These policies brought matters of national identity strongly to the fore. ‘In the 1980s’, writes historian Peter Simpson, ‘cultural nationalism remained a live issue for both advocates and detractors in every sphere of cultural expression’ [72]. After the defeat of National, the cultural future under Lange could look bright indeed, at least according to a glowing 1986 article in Variety written by longtime industry analyst (and former chair of the QEII Arts Council and future deputy chair of the NZFC) Mike Nicolaidi. Labour’s new order promised a veritable ‘Kiwi cultural revolution’, Nicolaidi effused, with film and ‘art generally … feeding on the nourishment of a more vigorous, multicultural and competitive environment’ [73]. From a different perspective, of course, this environment could look to be less nourishing than calculating, politically expedient and crassly commercial in the uses it made of culture.

The NZFC’s public rhetoric and policy shifts of the mid- and late 1980s should be seen not only in terms of ‘Rogernomics’, but also in terms of this so-called ‘Kiwi cultural revolution’. Caught in the cultural and investment marketplace without a loophole to hold on to, the NZFC insisted that it (analogous in this respect to Lange’s government in its anti-nuclear stance) was a ‘buffer’ protecting New Zealand from ‘the power of the American film production and distribution machine’ [74]. The NZFC also took pains, again, to spell out in its 1984-1986 annual reports the ‘principal reasons for Government support for the film industry’. These ‘reasons’, understood as ‘benefits’, fell under three categories: the ‘cultural’ role of film as ‘a tool in the expression of the New Zealand cultural identity’; the ‘identification of New Zealand overseas’, especially to a ‘discriminating and sophisticated world market’; and the in-country ‘economic’ benefits, as well as export income [75]. The NZFC, in its public pronouncements at least, did not explore the potential contradiction between film as ‘tool’ of self-expression and as enticement to upscale overseas consumers. But by 1987 it was evoking a somewhat more complex view of cultural nationalism, especially in a brochure entitled, Every Nation Needs its Story-tellers. To make the (ultimately unsuccessful) case for the government funding of a ‘Cinemobank’ that would ‘operate on strictly commercial film investment criteria’, this illustrated brochure played up the role of the New Zealand film industry as national storyteller and historian, ready and able to ‘explore the roots of our nation’ and further the ‘continued development of the national spirit’ by looking at ‘our culture, heritage and diversity’ [76]. References in past NZFC documents to the South Pacific and New Zealand’s regional identity gave way to a more exclusive focus on the nation. But how could this new national-centricity jibe with the increasing demand for pre-sale agreements and the aggressive courting of the overseas market?

In effect, prodded by Labour’s economic and cultural agenda, the NZFC revised its working policies and reconceptualized its sense of the ‘New Zealand film industry’. The 1986 annual report introduced a new cinematic category into the NZFC discourse: ‘New Zealand language films’, that is, ‘films of high quality made for New Zealand by New Zealanders, but without necessarily having international appeal’ and thus dependent on government subsidy [77]. This was congenial to the vision of certain producers, most notably John Maynard (Vigil, The Navigator [1988], and, later, The Piano), while others, like the president of the Independent Producers and Directors Guild, John Barnett (Beyond Reasonable Doubt, Footrot Flats [1986]), saw ‘New Zealand movies by New Zealanders, about New Zealanders’ as a recipe for box office disaster [78]. There is little suggestion by this date that the ‘New Zealand language film’ might be marketable internationally precisely because of its ‘indigenous’ qualities. And there is no direct acknowledgement in the NZFC literature that the ‘New Zealand language film’ was or could be thought of as a particular genre, such as outgoing executive director Jim Booth suggested when he criticized the commission for playing it ‘safe’ by backing the ‘soft, gentle New Zealand film’ [79].

While no separate monies were specifically set aside for ‘New Zealand language’ feature films, the NZFC in 1985 formalised its commitment to non-feature and, perhaps, non-traditional filmmaking by establishing a ‘Short Film Fund’ intended to ‘fill the major gap in the industry between purely commercial production and feature films’ and to encourage ‘new film-makers and new approaches to film-making’ [80]. During the March 1986 to March 1987 fiscal year, the Short Film Fund received NZ$867,000 in Lottery Board funds; by 1991 this figure was up to NZ$1.47 million, about 10 per cent of the total NZFC expenditure, which was invested in 17 productions and 24 script development projects [81]. Operating relatively independently of the NZFC proper, the Short Film Fund promoted what it termed ‘quality’ work in fiction, documentary, and animation that was still designed for standard exhibition outlets, i.e. television and movie theaters [82]. (Along with the Arts Council, the NZFC also committed funds to the Creative Development Fund, which supported more ‘experimental’ film and media projects. Its first such grant was in 1983 for NZ$50,000; by 1989 the figure was NZ$159,000.) The NZFC also came to conceive of (and to rationalize?) the Short Film Fund as a way of economically supporting the industry at large by ‘maintaining production activity for independent producers’.

Thus, in accord with the pragmatics of ‘free-market’ economics, the imperatives of cultural nationalism, and the newfound insistence on the ‘diversity’ of New Zealanders, the NZFC in the later 1980s formally and publicly redefined its sense of the New Zealand film industry to include: commercially minded feature films out to crack overseas markets, ‘New Zealand language’ feature films, and domestically marketable short films of quality. In addition, it complemented its market-driven support of established production companies (through PODS and SuperPODS funds) with a formally acknowledged ‘cultural’ commitment to Maori filmmakers, a commitment in keeping with the tenor of the times. Under Labour in the 1980s, there were, for example, ‘moves to devolve greater responsibility for Maori issues to Maori organizations’, as well as increasingly prominent Maori land claims (based on alleged violations of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi that had ‘officially’ annexed New Zealand to the British Empire) [83]. As a result, cultural geographer Eric Pawson could point in 1992 to the ‘vitality of Maoridom’, since ‘there is now much wider recognition of the validity of Maori cultural values’ [84].

In the late-1980s the NZFC played a part in this process by backing two ‘particularly indigenous’ feature films written and directed by Maori, Barry Barclay’s Ngati (1987) and Merata Mita’s Mauri (1988) [85]. It also co-funded E Tipu E Rea (1989), a five-part series of thirty-minute dramatic films designed for television, which was initiated by Te Manu Aute, a collective of Maori video and filmmakers formed in late 1986. The 1991 annual report emphasized the ‘diversity of New Zealand’s film-makers and the range of audience tastes reflected by our cinema-goers’, a ‘diverse and interesting people’, while the following year the NZFC prepared a new, ‘expanded’ ‘Statement of Purpose’: ‘New Zealand films, and the New Zealand film industry, are reflective of the cultural diversity of the nation and in this spirit the Film Commission supports the aspirations of Maori filmmakers’ [86]. In practical terms this meant that Maori would be more fully included in the commission’s decision-making processes and that Maori filmmaking would be treated as a separate cinematic category, presumably overlapping but not synonymous with the category of ‘New Zealand language films’ [87].

This commitment to Maori filmmaking continued despite the new National government’s 1991 budget, which cut its grant to the NZFC by NZ$2.7 million, as part of a larger effort to deal with the budget deficit. Though the Lottery Board grant slightly increased, the overall effect was a 20 percent reduction in funds for the NZFC, which was generally discussed in the press along with other ‘Arts’ agencies, like the New Zealand Symphony, whose budget was trimmed by NZ$861,000. The NZFC announced that it would eliminate one of its major marketing trips, no longer support documentary filmmaking with the Short Film Fund, and focus on feature film productions with budgets under NZ$1.5 million to be co-funded with New Zealand television agencies [88].

Even with the cut, the short-term future, at least, looked bright. The summer of 1992 registered what Variety called a ‘production boom’, with three features fully funded by the NZFC, two co-productions, and a range of major television productions, including ABC’s mini-series, The Tommyknockers [89]. Meanwhile National appointed new members to the NZFC, including Phillip Pryke, an investment banker who had earlier advised the government in its sale of Telecom and other state-run operations. Pryke took over as chair of the NZFC early in 1993, with a vow to further ‘devolve’ control to the private sector and bring ‘market-driven’ operating principles even more to the fore, while still supporting the occasional ‘New Zealand icon’ like The End of the Golden Weather or Once were Warriors (1994), based on a prize-winning novel by Maori writer Alan Duff [90].

In February 1994, the former director of Film Queensland, Richard Stewart, was hired as the NZFC’s new CEO. Stewart’s immediate objective was to encourage greater private investment in the industry and to establish ‘co-production and co-financing arrangements’ with the ‘Asia Pacific Region’, meaning not so much Pacific Island nations, but Australia and, particularly, Japan [91]. As before, the NZFC continued to fund script development and short film production, though Stewart announced in July 1994 that the commission would no longer handle the sales for larger budget feature films (as opposed to short films, low-budget first films, and what Stewart euphemistically called ‘culturally relevant films’). In effect, this policy decision was intended to force feature-film producers to secure more up-front investment in the form of ‘sales advances’ [92]. The longer term effects of these shifts in policy – and managerial style – remain to be seen, but buoyed by the local and international success of Once Were Warriors (following on the heels of The Piano) and by the accolades garnered by Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994), the New Zealand film industry now has perhaps its best opportunity since the early 1980s to secure a niche in the world market. For example, primarily on the basis of Once Were Warriors, the New York Times in October 1995 contrasted New Zealand’s ‘cinematic renaissance’ favorably with the state of the Australian film industry, now known internationally for commercially successful comedies such as Strictly Ballroom (1992) and Babe (1995) [93].

There seems to me no question that the New Zealand Film Commission has since the late 1970s actively shaped, promoted and on occasion kept alive the feature-film industry in New Zealand, not least of all by the commission’s commitment to the production of short films that have garnered acclaim in international festivals and even gotten a fair amount of domestic exposure in theatrical and television release. Determining whether or not the NZFC has been a good investment depends, of course, on deciding how success is to be measured, and that is an ideologically loaded decision, as the various reports and promotional documents I have surveyed indicate. The fact that the NZFC has been to some degree responsible for Smash Palace, Utu, Vigil, Ngati, Brain Dead, An Angel at my Table, Once Were Warriors and Heavenly Creatures strikes me as a quite laudable achievement. Perhaps the commission – being a state-funded institution subject to party politics in an era of major economic and social change – is also to be commended because these well-received films do not follow one obvious cinematic blueprint and do not consistently create the same ‘New Zealand’.

But evaluating the NZFC in these terms is not the prime point here. I have focused on the history of this agency and of the discourse concerning film, cultural policy and national identity in New Zealand since the 1970s. One of the most striking things about this relatively small-scale example, I think, is that it shows ‘national identity’ to be so clearly a process, or, rather, several sometimes inter-related processes, involving the orchestration of bicultural voices, the (re)invention or reclamation of tradition, and the presentation of a face or a consumable narrative to the world. Film serves or is at least assumed to serve a privileged role in the process of national identity, that is, in the making and remaking, the marketing and the understanding of ‘New Zealand’. Throughout the cultural policy discourse during this period, ‘film’, too, gets redefined and carries multiple meanings: specifically in the NZFC’s shifting categories (i.e. short, experimental, low-budget feature, Maori film, New Zealand language film, ‘culturally relevant film’) and more broadly in the sense of film as, for instance, growth industry, investment opportunity, government-supported art, auteurist expression, vehicle for national self-expression or self-examination, commodity for the international market, public service gesture, signifier of the nation or postcard from the Antipodes. These ways of thinking about film and national identity, like the specific decisions and policies of the NZFC, are rooted in the political, social and cultural conditions in New Zealand during this period. I would not expect them to be replicated elsewhere, though I would argue that historians of any ‘new’ national cinema should be attuned to both the procedures of state involvement and also the discourse of film-related cultural policy.

Correspondence: Gregory A. Waller, Department of English, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY 40506-USA. Fax: 606.323.1072.


[1] Quoted in Louise Guerin, Feast before famine, Listener (2 Aug. 1986), p. 14. I would have been unable to undertake this research project without the support of the Fulbright Scholars Awards program and the advice, assistance and generosity of a great many people in New Zealand, including Laurie Cox of the New Zealand-United States Educational Foundation; Ruth Jeffery and Lindsay Shelton of the New Zealand Film Commission; William Sheat, former chair of the New Zealand Film Commission; Diane Pivak of the New Zealand Film Archive; director Barry Barclay; producer Jim Booth; Russell Campbell of Victoria University; and my hosts in the Film and Television Studies program at the University of Waikato, Sam Edwards and Geoff Lealand. David Newman graciously provided me with material from Onfilm.

[2] See the Time line, in Jonathan Dennis & Jan Bieringa, eds, Film in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington, NZ, 1992), pp. 214-219.

[3] See especially Film in Aotearoa New Zealand; Nicholas Reid, A Decade of New Zealand Film (Dunedin, NZ, 1986); Barry Barclay, Our Own Image (Auckland, NZ, 1990); Chris Watson, New Zealand feature films: their state and status, New Zealand Sociology, 3 (1988), pp. 79-96; Russell Campbell et al., The cinematic redefinition of Pakeha identity, Illusions, 7 (1988), pp. 19-25; Roger Horrocks, The creation of a feature film industry and Hollywood strikes back, in Te Ao Marama: il mondo della luce: il cinema della Nuova Zealand (Torino, IT, 1989), pp. 99-114; Michelle Baddiley, Islands against the stream, Filmnews, 20 (1990), pp. 6-7; Roger Horrocks, Moving images in New Zealand, in Mary Barr, ed., Headlands: thinking through New Zealand art, (Sydney, AU; 1992), pp. 135-146; and Mike Nicolaidi, New Zealand cinema now, in Peter Cowie, ed., International Film Guide (Hollywood, CA, 1991), pp. 18-50. The most detailed study of the economics and structure of the New Zealand film industry is David B. Newman, The independent New Zealand motion picture industry: 1960-1986, MA thesis (Victoria University, 1987).

[4] See Bill Nichols’ telling observations on how we ‘encounter cinemas and cultures, not our own’ in Discovering form, inferring meaning: new cinemas and the film festival circuit, Film Quarterly, 47 (1994), pp. 16-27.

[5] One revealing aspect of this discourse is precisely how the short list (the canon, as it were) of definitive New Zealand films has changed over the years, reflecting both the expanding corpus and the range of relevant criteria: international recognition, box-office success, artistic achievement, and so on. See, for example, the annotated bibliography in Te Ao Marama, which includes documentaries and short films and prominently features the works of Maori and women filmmakers.

[6] See, among many discussions of ‘film culture’, Susan Dermody & Elizabeth Jacka, The Screening of Australia: anatomy of a film industry, Vol. 1 (Sydney, AU, 1987), pp. 23-27. See also Thomas Elsaesser, New German Cinema: a history (New Brunswick, NJ, 1989), pp. 18-32, 36-48.

[7] Alan McRobie, The politics of volatility, 1972-1991, in Geoffrey W. Rice, ed., The Oxford History of New Zealand, 2nd edn (Auckland, NZ, 1992), p. 385. See also Mervyn Pope, Trauma and tribulation: the New Zealand economy, in Roderic Alley, ed., New Zealand and the Pacific (Boulder, CO, 1984), pp. 38-59.

[8] Quoted in Newman, Independent New Zealand motion picture industry, p. 12.

[9] Annual Report of the QE II Arts Council (1964), pp. 15-16. On government funding of the arts in New Zealand, see W.H. Oliver, The awakening imagination, 1940-1980, in Oxford History of New Zealand, pp. 541, 558-562.

[10] ‘National identity’ was by no means a new issue in New Zealand at this time. Indeed, Peter Simpson describes the ‘search for a national identity’ as being ‘ubiquitous in the post-war [World War II] decades’ (The recognition of difference, in Oxford History of New Zealand, p. 571). The back cover of the 1988 Penguin paperback edition of Keith Sinclair’s A History of New Zealand declares: ‘This is the story of a people’s growing national self-consciousness and increasing awareness of their real place in the world’.

[11] Report of Arts Conference ’70, resolutions 117, 118.

[12] Film Industry Working Party, Submission to Committee on Broadcasting (October 1973), pp. 3-6. The all-male Working Party was chaired by William Sheat, former head of the QEII Arts Council, and also included a major film distributor, representatives of the government’s Tourist and Publicity Department and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, two university lecturers, two filmmakers and the president of the New Zealand Federation of Film Societies.

[13] Annual Report of the QE II Arts Council (1975), pp. 15, 13. The Arts Council had established its own ‘Creative Film Fund’ in 1973 and partially funded 14 projects in 1974, principally documentaries and what it called ‘educational films’.

[14] Final Report of Film Industry Working Party of Queen Elizabeth Arts Council (1975), pp. 4-6, 23.

[15] See, for example, Graeme Turner, ‘It works for me’: British cultural studies, Australian cultural studies, Australian film, in Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson & Paula Treichler, eds, Cultural Studies (New York, NY, 1992), pp. 646-650, for a discussion of ‘how substantive and how ideologically complex a role has been played by specific definitions of the nation and thus of the national film industry over the last twenty years’ in Australia.

[16] Graeme Dunsall, The social pattern, in Oxford History of New Zealand, p. 452.

[17] Horrocks, Hollywood strikes back, p. 107. For a critique of the ‘cultural imperialism thesis’ see John Tomlinson, Cultural Imperialism: a critical introduction (Baltimore, MD, 1992); and Elizabeth Jacka, Film, in Stuart Cunningham and Graeme Turner, eds, The Media in Australia: industries, texts, audiences (St Leonards, New South Wales, AU, 1993), p. 73. Geoff Lealand convincingly assesses the particular deployment of this thesis in New Zealand in A Foreign Egg in our Nest? American popular culture in New Zealand (Wellington, NZ, 1988).

[18] Annual Report of the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council (1976), pp. 8-9.

[19] New Zealand Parliamentary Debate, 398 (4 June 1978), pp. 1752, 1749. As David Novitz notes, ‘cultural identity’ is often assumed to be synonymous with or expressive of ‘cultural distinctiveness’ (On culture and cultural identity in David Novitz & Bill Willmort, eds, Culture and Identity in New Zealand [Wellington, NZ, 1989], p. 286).

[20] J.L. Booth, Proposal to Establish a New Zealand Film Production Commission (July 1977), pp. 6-10. In preparing this proposal, Booth visited Australia in March 1977 and prepared a formal report on the various commissions and government agencies involved with the Australian film industry, see Booth’s ‘Notes on Discussions’, which includes reprints of the Australian Film Commission’s ‘Policy Statement’ and other relevant documents.

[21] Booth, Proposal to Establish a New Zealand Film Production Commission, pp. 1, 25.

[22] Fran Fisher, Will the New Zealand film industry die? Metro, 17 (Nov. 1982), p. 116; editorial printed in Timaru Herald and other local newspapers, quoted in New Zealand Film 19 (January-April 1983), p. 15.

[23] Interim Film Commission, Towards a New Zealand motion picture production policy (Feb. 1978), pp. 6, 8-9.

[24] Towards a New Zealand motion picture production policy, p. 8.

[25] New Zealand Parliamentary Debate 420 (24 Aug. 1978), p. 2864; New Zealand Parliamentary Debate 421 (28 Sept. 1978), pp. 3992-3994.

[26] McRobie, p. 394. See also Roderic Alley, New Zealand and the South Pacific, in New Zealand and the Pacific, pp. 135-154. Regional affiliation is in New Zealand inescapably bound up with issues of multiculturalism, so it is important to note that the 1976 Task Force on Economic and Social Planning insisted that ‘a shift of attention to the multicultural basis of New Zealand society was needed’. Indeed, Keith Barber argues that by the end of the 1970s ‘multiculturalism … appeared to have gained acceptance at the highest levels of public administration’ (New Zealand ‘Race Relations’ Policy’, 1970-1988, Sites, 18 [1989], pp. 6-7).

[27] Interim Film Commission, Design for the Motion Picture Production Industry (May 1978), p. 9. See R. J. Stephens, Public policy and the New Zealand feature film industry: an economic appraisal, New Zealand Film Commission Research Paper (1984), for a critique of this type of ‘economic’ rationale. For a sense of the debate in the United States over government support of the arts during this period, see David Cwi, Public support of the arts: three arguments examined, Journal of Cultural Economics, 4, (1980), pp. 39-61; and Kevin V. Mulcahy & C. Richard Swaim, eds, Public Policy and the Arts (Boulder, CO, 1982).

[28] Design for the Motion Picture Production Industry, pp. 1, 15.

[29] Dermody & Jacka, Screening of Australia, pp. 197-199.

[30] See John O’Shea, Sheat – anchor at the helm, Onfilm, 2 (1985), pp. 12-13.

[31] Bruce Jesson, Commission with a new (bank) role, Onfilm, 2 (1985), p. 14.

[32] NZ Film no. 26 (Sept. 1985), p. 16; Sue May, Gascoigne: he has ways, Onfilm, 2 (1985), pp. 14-19.

[33] Newman, Independent New Zealand Motion Picture Industry, p. 66.

[34] New Zealand Film Commission Act (1978, no. 61), pp. 8-10. This Act closely follows the model of the Australian Film Development Corporation Act (1970). The New Zealand Film Commission Act remained law with few changes into the 1990s, except for an amendment in 1985 to more readily allow for co-productions.

[35] A much stricter sense of the criteria could, of course, be evoked, as when actor Bruce Allpress, for instance, staked his faith in the ‘indigenous Kiwi movie’, meaning a film ‘produced, directed, written, and acted by Kiwis’ (Michael Morrissey, Actor Bruce Allpress on making movies, double standards and embarrassing moments, Metro, 45 [1985], p. 120). On the way this issue plays out in relation to popular music in New Zealand, see Roy Shuker & Michael Pickering, We want the airwaves: the New Zealand music quota debate, Illusions, 18 (1991), pp. 40-44.

[36] New Zealand Film Commission Act (1978, no. 61), p. 10. In fact, the only serious debate in Parliament over the NZFC Act concerned this acknowledgment of ‘community standards’, which would, argued one Labour member, make for ‘a sort of sanitised film commission, which supports the making of certain types of innocuous films only’ (New Zealand Parliamentary Debate 421 [28 Sept. 1978], p. 3999).

[37] Murphy’s own account of the 1970s has passionate, committed, maverick filmmakers hemmed in on one side by the National Film Unit and on the other by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, with its complete control over television programming. Against all odds, the independents manage to succeed (The end of the beginning, in Film in Aotearoa New Zealand, pp. 130-135). See also Geoff Steven’s documentary on these filmmakers, Cowboys of Culture (1991), and Geoff Chapple, New Zealand films: a new wave? Listener, 5 March 1977, pp. 18-19.

[38] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1979), p. 11.

[39] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1979), pp. 12-13. The argument that the government’s support for film falls under the more general support for ‘artists in this country’ was rarely made, but see an interview with outgoing Minister for the Arts Allan Highet in the premiere issue of Onfilm, 1 (1983), pp. 3-4.

[40] New Zealand Supplement, Cinema Papers (May-June 1980), p. 22. Filmmakers like Sam Pillsbury (director of The Scarecrow [1982]) would make the same argument. See, for example, Marcia Russell, Scared no more, Listener, 17 April 1982, pp. 15-16.

[41] New Zealand Parliamentary Debate 421 (28 Sept. 1978), p. 3992.

[42] See, for example, Brenda Gillespie, Commission adds weight to film industry, National Business Review, 19 Sept. 1979, p. 16; and New Zealand Commission Funds Assigned with More Selectivity, Variety, 5 May 1983, n.p. In New Zealand Film Commission clipping file, New Zealand Film Archives, Wellington, NZ (hereafter NZFA file).

[43] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1981), p. 7.

[44] For an ‘inside’ view of the NZFC’s activities during this period, see the interviews with Sheat, Blakeney and Shelton in New Zealand Supplement, pp. 21-31, 42.

[45] See NZFC memorandum, Tax and films: analysis and recommendation (29 Sept. 1982).

[46] Reid, Independent New Zealand motion picture industry, pp. 16-17, 32-34; John Bowie, Tax laws: any incentive? Onfilm, 1 (1984), pp. 3-4; Lynn Bryan, A future for our films? Listener, 12 May 1984, pp. 38-41.

[47] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1981), p. 3; Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1982), p. 4. See also New Zealand Parliamentary Debate 447 (12 Oct. 1982), p. 3930, and William Sheat, An Overview of the New Zealand Film Industry (30 Sept. 1980), a briefing prepared for the Minister in charge of the National Film Unit.

[48] Nick Roddick, New Zealand: taking off? Films and Filming (June 1982), p. 9. ‘The growth of a film industry is dependent on its international connections’, declared producers Gary Hannum & John Barnett, in their report, An Assessment of the Contribution to New Zealand made by the Growing Film Industry (Sept. 1981). Longtime New Zealand producer and director John O’Shea emphasized film’s capacity to function as ‘the upscale means for public relations for a country’ (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly … and the NZPDA [nd], p. 8). These documents were provided to me by William Sheat.

[49] In addition to New Zealand Film, for information on the NZFC’s marketing activities, see John Reid, Shelton: a delicate balance, Onfilm, 1 (1984), pp. 3-7; and Alan Williamson, Lindsay Shelton: celluloid seller, Wellington Evening Post, 4 Jan. 1988, p. 18.

[50] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1980), p. 4.

[51] See, for example, in the NZFA file: Film industry comes of age, Waikato Times (Hamilton), 8 Sept. 1979; We are making good films, Southland Times (Invercargill), 15 Sept. 1979; NZ film making, Northland Times, 21 Sept. 1979; Film boom, Auckland Star, 16 Jan. 1981; Selling our films to the world, Evening Post (Wellington), 23 May 1981; Selling films overseas, Christchurch Press, 9 June 1981; Coming of age, Evening News, 4 Aug. 1981; NZ film industry is doing fine, Timaru Herald, 30 Jan. 1982; Tax incentives imperative for film industry, Evening Post (Wellington), 4 June 1982; The Government Calls ‘Cut!’ New Zealand Herald (Auckland), 16 Aug. 1982; Financing film industry, Christchurch Press, 18 Aug. 1982; Film industry review, Southland Times (Invercargill), 11 Oct. 1982; Film benefit, Southland Times (Invercargill), 7 Dec. 1982; Film industry blossoming, Timaru Herald, 14 Feb. 1983; Our movies compete, Auckland Star, 12 Aug. 1983; Fillip for New Zealand Films, New Zealand Herald (Auckland), 8 Dec. 1983. Many of these editorials were reprinted in other New Zealand newspapers, and New Zealand Film regularly quoted from reviews and editorials. See also Editorial Support for Film Industry, a NZFC handout probably from 1982 (NZFA file).

[52] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1983), p. 3. For contrasting views, see Anthony I. Giannane, Pictures for profit, Onfilm, 1 (1984), pp. 18, 38; Reid, A Decade of New Zealand Film, pp. 13-14.

[53] Murphy, End of the beginning, pp. 117-119. See Alastair Morrison, When dreams turn to nightmares, Wellington Dominion, 23 June 1986, p. 9.

[54] Bruce Jesson, Money talks, Onfilm, 1 (1984), pp. 19-20. The fear that co-production operated as ‘a kind of cultural colonisation’ registered particularly strongly. See Gordon Campbell, Prisoners of the US dollar? Listener, 24 April 1982, p. 23; Bryan, A future for our films, pp. 38-41; Geoff Chapple, Film phoenix with cuckoos, Listener, 27 June 1987, pp. 26-27; David Tossman, Five ways forward, Onfilm, 1 (1983), pp. 5-7; Jane Clifton, Makers plod on without incentive, Wellington Dominion, 3 (1985), p. 16; Stephen Ballantyne, The New Zealand film industry – what future? New Zealand Art News, 2 (1985), pp. 2, 19.

[55] New Zealand Film Commission Annual Report (1985), p. 3.

[56] These figures come from the NZFC’s Annual Reports. Note that Lottery Board funds, by law, were intended to ‘assist cultural development in New Zealand’, and the Board’s contributions to the NZFC were ‘specifically oriented toward indigenous New Zealand films’ (Briefing Notes, 6 [10 May 1984], pp. 1-2).

[57] Mike Nicolaidi, Labour: which formula, Onfilm, 1 (1984), p. 14.

[58] Quoted in Pam Graham, Filmmakers face lean times, Wellington Dominion, 5 Jan. (1985) (NZFA file).

[59] Bruce Jesson, Guest editorial, Onfilm, 2 (1984), p. 4; Vernon Wright, The prescription for Lazarus? Onfilm, 1 (1984), pp. 9-11. See, for an example of Labour’s public posture, a 1984 press release from the Minister of Internal Affairs, which affirmed that ‘the Government is determined that the New Zealand film industry should survive’ (Briefing Notes 8 [Nov. 1984], p. 5).

[60] Quoted in Pam Graham, Film makers face lean times, Wellington Dominion, 5 Jan. 1985. Also quoted in Rachel Lang, Going for broke … or breaks, Onfilm, 2 (1985), p. 28; and New Zealand Film, 25 (1985), p. 15.

[61] Mike Nicolaidi, Kiwi producers, upset at state of industry, want Lange’s help, Variety, 6 Aug. 1987, pp. 33-34; Don Grove, NZ film industry isn’t sinking, Variety, 30 April 1986, pp. 113, 124.

[62] McRobie, The politics of volatility, pp. 402-403.

[63] Gary Hawke, Economic trends and economic policy, 1938-1992, in Oxford History of New Zealand, p. 441.

[64] Jacka, Film: the production process, p. 191.

[65] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1985), p. 4. Lindsay Shelton, Guest Editorial, Onfilm, 3 (1986), p. 2. A crucial question here is precisely how this ‘overseas market’ was imagined – as American? as up-scale? as art-cinema-goers? One answer was provided by Shear in a 1980 interview with Cinema Papers: ‘I think New Zealand filmmakers should make films for people who come to the cinema with no prior knowledge or understanding of New Zealand’ (The New Zealand Film Commission, p. 23).

[66] New Zealand Film Commission, Role and Operations (1986). In contrast, an earlier set of NZFC guidelines (n.d., but apparently the first such set) was entitled, ‘Assistance for New Zealand film-makers’. On the generally dismal economic condition of the film industry during the late 1980s, see Leo Schulz, making money out of movies, Export Business, Feb. 1987, pp. 13-17; Jonathan Dowling, Focussing on movie money, New Zealand Financial Review, 7 (1988), pp. 32-35; and Eion Scott, Films look overseas for finance, NBR Weekend Review, 16 Dec. 1988, p. 9. Whatever prognosis they offer, articles of this sort emphasize that New Zealand film should be discussed primarily in an economic framework.

[67] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1990), p. 12. Awarded to what Variety called ‘the industry’s most seasoned producers’ (Philip Wakefield, Record hot summer heads for islands, Variety, 5 Oct. 1992, p. 52), SuperPODS further institutionalized the shift from a director-oriented cinema to a production company-oriented cinema. See Briefing Notes, 26 (July 1990), pp. 1-2.

[68] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1989), p. 7. Box office figures are not always available, but very few New Zealand feature films over the years have met these criteria. One exception was The End of the Golden Weather, which reported a box office total of NZ$309,000 in 1992. This ranked thirty-fifth among all releases that year in New Zealand, but tenth in the list of top all-time New Zealand films in terms of domestic box office (cited in Onfilm, 9 [1992], p. 6). As of 1995, the most profitable film yet funded by the NZFC is unquestionably Once Were Warriors, which in fact has taken in more in the domestic box office than any other film ever released in New Zealand.

[69] Rachel Lang, Cash flow criteria, Onfilm, 6 (1989), pp. 15-16. See also the ‘Script Readers’ Checklist’ (a guide to ‘good stories, well-told’) in New Zealand Film Commission, 1988/89 Priorities, pp. 13-14. For earlier criticism of ‘pre-selling’ as the virtual death-knell of an indigenous industry, see the comments of Vincent Ward and others in Guerin, Feast before famine, pp. 14-15.

[70] For the issue of funding in the late-1980s, see Peter Calder, A kiss of life for our film-makers, Christchurch Star, 3 March 1989; Helen Smyth, Zilch represents the film industry, Wellington Dominion, 13 March 1989, p. 11; Alan Williamson, Only the fit survive in the celluloid jungle, Wellington Evening Post, 26 May 1989; Anne Byrnes, The NZ picture is looking good, NBR Weekly Magazine, 5 Oct. 1990, pp. 8-9; and Backing our film industry, Wellington Dominion, 9 Oct. 1990, p. 8. Information concerning overseas sales and domestic box office comes from Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1991), pp. 10-13.

The first ‘fully offshore funded’ feature film shot in New Zealand was Disney’s The Rescue (1987). On this production and the debate it generated, see Mike Nicolaidi, To the rescue, Cinema Papers (Sept. 1987), n.p. (NZFA file); and Geoff Chapple, Film phoenix with cuckoos, Listener, 27 June 1987, pp. 26-27.

[71] Hawke, Economic trends and economic policy, p. 447.

[72] Simpson, The recognition of difference, p. 572. See Horrock, Moving images in New Zealand, p. 139; and David Novitz & Bill Willmott, eds, Culture and Identity in New Zealand (Wellington, NZ, 1989), particularly the essays by David Novitz (On culture and cultural identity) and Nick Perry (Cinderella and the silver Mercedes: popular culture and the construction of national identity). For a critique of essentialist understandings of ‘cultural identity’, see Michael Pickering, Mass communications and the quest for cultural identity, Sites, 21 (1990), p. 47.

[73] Mike Nicolaidi, Unique identity shaping for New Zealand nation under Lange leadership, Variety, 30 April 1986, p. 117. This climate encouraged the idea that national identity was still, could still be ‘forged’. See Ron Mikalsen, nine years: themes and ideas, Onfilm, 3 (1986), p. 10.

[74] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1987), p. 2.

[75] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1985), p. 3; Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1984), p. 3. The Guild of Film and Television Arts at its December 1984 conference (entitled The Value of Identity) offered virtually the same rationale as the NZFC (Lang, Going for broke … or breaks, p. 28). In a study undertaken for the NZFC, Victoria University economist R. J. Stephens offered ‘an extremely strong argument for the support of a film industry which represents an expression of national culture’, based in part on the idea that ‘manufactured exports need a cultural image for support and this may well permeate out of the film mystique’ (Public Policy and the New Zealand Feature Film Industry: An Economic Appraisal [Aug. 1984], p. 18).

[76] New Zealand Film Commission, Every Nation Needs Its Story Tellers (1987), pp. 1-2.

[77] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1986), p. 4. In its brochure entitled, 1988/89 Priorities, pp. 2, 9, the NZFC announced its commitment to ‘make’ one ‘New Zealand Language’ feature film each year, with the rest being, in its words, ‘strong stories, well told by writers skilled in the craft, with a universal theme from a New Zealand perspective’.

[78] Maynard’s views are presented in Guerin, Feast before famine, p. 15; Barnett’s comment is quoted in John Bowie, Tax laws: any incentive? Onfilm, 1 (1984), p. 4.

[79] Alan Williamson, Calculated risk – the Jim Booth philosophy, Wellington Evening Post, 13 May 1989, p. 8.

[80] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1986), p. 7; Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1987), p. 3. See the first announcement for the Short Film Fund (Onfilm, 2 [1985], p. 16). Reflective of the later 1980s is Short Film Fund: Strategy for 1989/90 (Briefing Notes, 22 [April 1989], p. 2), which insists that ‘the projects supported by the Commission must be audience driven’.

[81] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1991), p. 19.

[82] See Jesson, Commission with a new (bank) role, p. 14; Roger Horrocks, The long view on short films, Onfilm, 4 (1986), pp. 24-25; and Merril Cole, Screening for attention, Arts Times (Oct. 1987), p. 5. During the next several years, the Short Film Fund financed a number of documentaries on social issues, filmed records of dance and performance pieces, and much-acclaimed films by directors such as Alison Maclean and Peter Wells, who would move to feature-film production.

[83] Keith Barber argues that these moves were, however, a means of ‘appropriating Maori organizations for the purpose of implementing government policies’ (New Zealand ‘Race Relations Policy’, pp. 14-15). See also, for example, Graham Oddie & Roy Perrett, eds, Justice, Ethics, and New Zealand Society (Auckland, NZ, 1992); and Paul Spoonley, David Pearson & Cluny Macpherson, eds, Nga Take: ethnic relations and racism in Aotearoa/New Zealand (Palmerston North, NZ, 1991).

[84] Eric Pawson, Two New Zealands: Maori and European, in Kay Anderson & Faye Gayle, eds, Inventing Places: studies in cultural geography (Melbourne, AU, 1992), p. 30.

[85] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1988), p. 3.

[86] Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1991), pp. 5, 17; Annual Report of the New Zealand Film Commission (1992), p. 6.

[87] See New Zealand Film Commission Briefing Notes no. 32 (Oct. 1991), p. 5; Deborah Coddington, The New Zealand picture show: what is the film commission up to? North and South, April 1992, pp. 102-103; Transcript of seminars at the New Zealand Film and Television Conference (1992), Supplement to Onfilm, (Dec. 1992), p. 9.

[88] See in NZFA file: Tim Donoghue, Arts agencies suffer $6m slash in income, New Zealand Herald (Auckland), 31 July 1991; Mike Houlahan, Film industry savaged by cuts, Wellington Evening Post, 31 July 1991; Peter Calder, Angels and turkeys, New Zealand Herald (Auckland), 2 Aug. 1991; Discordant budget for the arts, Wellington Evening Post, 2 Aug. 1991. See also Briefing Notes, 31 (Aug. 1991), pp. 1-7; Philip Wakefield, Commish trims budget, Onfilm, 8 (1991), pp. 1, 5; A sorry performance, Onfilm, 8 (1991), p. 8; Budget action call, Onfilm, 8, (1991), pp. 1, 6; Funding fallout feared, Onfilm, 9 (1992), p. 3.

[89] Wakefield, Record hot summer, p. 46.

[90] Philip Wakefield, New chief takes aim at ‘welfare’, Onfilm, 10 (1993), p. 5.

[91] NZFC Briefing Notes, Onfilm, 11 (1994), p. 13; Philip Wakefield, Cash in kitty blunts production slate, Onfilm, 11 (1994), p. 5.

[92] Commish exits sales role, Onfilm, 11 (1994), p. 1; NZFC Briefing Notes, Onfilm, 11 (1994), p. 18.

[93] Philip Shenon, Australia’s serious side fades from the screen, New York Times, 22 October 1995, sec. H, p. 3.

Gregory A. Waller is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Kentucky, where he teaches courses in film and cultural studies. He was a Fulbright lecturer in New Zealand in 1993. His most recent book is Main Street Amusements: movies and commercial entertainment in a southern city. 1896-1930 (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995) Among his other publications are essays in Cinema Journal, Velvet Light Trap, Film History, Black Film Review, and other journals, as well as The Living and the Undead: from Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ to Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (1986) and American Horrors: essays on the modern American horror film (1987). He has also produced and directed At the Picture Show (1993), a documentary on small-town moviegoing during the 1930s.

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