Dear Person Interested in New Zealand film: I think this a fair and true statement to make: "Local films are made with lots of love and passion."
A great romance is someone falling in love with a story and wanting to create it for others to embrace. Bitten by this love bug, local casts and crews work in harmony on something they all want to love. The fairytale ending is seeing the story unfold on a big silver screen.
But like all great love affairs it usually ends in ... tragedy.
The film misses out on a festival premiere, snags no distribution and sits on a shelf or at the most, dribbles out a few DVD copies down the line. This doesn't just happen to self-funded films. It can happen with NZ Film Commission-funded films. And everyone talks about changing models of distribution and how the playing field has changed.
"Forget cinemas!" they shout, "Your market is downloads."
Well, I might be a naive bigscreen purist, but to me there is something inherently powerful about seeing films on a large screen and not a 17" monitor. Films shown in a collective environment have the ability to create a frisson that no downloaded film can equal. If we get to the mindset about doing away with any theatrical plan for smaller local films, you may as well kill the NZFC and put the monies into NZ On Air.
With the findings from the Ministerial review of the NZFC yet to come, it'll be interesting to see how much thought (and money) will be devoted to the idea of infrastructure to support the release of local product.
Films that don't have major distributors behind them or enthusiastic exhibitor support usually end up going direct to video after a possible festival premiere. Sometimes a self-distributed release will score a few days here and there at their local supportive arthouse but virtually never at a 'plex.
France, Spain and Germany have thriving film scenes and that's mainly down to two reasons. Quotas and language barriers.
If we all spoke Te Reo the local film industry would actually be better off for it. As an English-speaking small country we will always be competing with bigger-budgeted, marketed product. We can never evolve without some sort of subsidy or distribution structure in place.
Should the Government allocate some monies to subsidise one 100% devoted New Zealand content digital screen in plexes/arthouses in each major city in the country -- thereby guaranteeing that NZ digital films will always have screen space available?
In a commercial environment it's practically impossible for small films to get in front of young audiences as they don't have the marketing clout of studio product or the leverage associated with having a pipeline of upcoming product.
At present a few small indie operators support local digital product by offering limited screen space out of some sense of patriotic duty. I was an arthouse cinema manager when things were tough, I know how they think, and more importantly how they feel. They usually offer space because of the following :
(1) They like the filmmakers gumption and have a sense of patriotic pride
(2) They have some dead space coming up
(3) And, rarest of all - they genuinely believe in the commercial potential of the film.
How to kick apathy in the arse? Lets look at a rather successful model in another medium that has cross over similarities …
New Zealand music managed to get a quota initiated on local radio and the quota appears to have been eclipsed (even by those who tried to fight it) by the support and growth of the local scene. So ...
Why is there no NEW ZEALAND FILM MONTH?
New Zealand Music Month is something that has been nurtured and supported and has paid off in many ways.
Could we transplant some of the concept to New Zealand film, where there's a focus on local content with 'plexes offering screen space to whole new audiences for a limited time? There could be a concentrated effort from all involved to celebrate local features and shorts and get these smaller films onto screens that are usually completely out of their reach. There would be direct and focused energy to celebrating New Zealand films of all shapes and colours.
At present there is so much time and energy devoted to making these films by hard working (often with no pay) cast and crews but very little has been thought about the end game for all these films. The end game also means trying to get money back to these people for all their hard work.
This has to change. The old thinking was "why throw good money after bad?". This was told to me by the departed CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission. Why bother releasing and spending money on a film if people don't want it?
It's a good question (except if its a film you funded) but it overlooks the obvious. Who says it's not good? Exhibitors who want the next Dark Knight? Or the NZFC, which originally turned down the local blockbuster Second Hand Wedding?
Nobody knows anything
What we do know is that NZ audiences do like seeing their stories on the big and small screens. We've had enough successes to know this. Breakouts and surprises can happen all the time but without committed space and support, we'll never know the true potential of any film unless we support it to the full extent.
We can't ask exhibitors to just hand over designated screens on a yearly basis without some sort of financial reimbursement -- that screen makes them a lot of money.
But maybe we could ask for one digital screen to be available for one month a year where we have a celebration of all NZ film. We could make quite a party of it.
I know I'd buy a ticket.
Ant Timpson: A dude who likes film
PS: Matt Horrocks at The Reservoir has been making some notes on the NZ film scene. Well worth checking out