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Key Appointment As NZIFF Rebuilds

15 Feb 2024

A major change at the helm of the NZ International Film Festival - as the organisation speaks about the challenges laid at its feet with the departure of several veterans.

The New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF) has gone overseas to find its way forward - announcing it has appointed international festival programmer, film critic and producer Paolo Bertolin as its newly appointed Artistic Director for 2024.

It's an impressive hire given the weight of his CV and established networks - and comes at a time when NZIFF has been reported to be at somewhat of a crossroads.

On the appointment, NZ Film Festival Trust Chair Catherine Fitzgerald says, “Paolo brings with him a wealth of film festival experience from all corners of the globe, with credentials including his ongoing association with the Venice International Film Festival and past affiliations with Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, the Locarno Film Festival, the Doha Film Institute, Mumbai Film Festival, Nyon Visions du Réel, and others. 

"He has a strong appreciation for Aotearoa film, having visited New Zealand regularly over the past decade as part of his programming remit for Venice International Film Festival.”

Fitzgerald told The Big Idea "We believe this experience and artistic leadership will be an asset when it comes to rebuilding NZIFF and refreshing our vision for all audiences.

"Paolo will be working with our Head of Programming Michael McDonnell - who has been part of the NZIFF programming team for over 20 years and has led the programming of the past two festivals - and together they will be collaborating with programming supporters. 

"We are hoping this will open opportunities for succession planning and future New Zealand programmers to grow.  

Paolo Bertolin.jpg
Paolo Bertolin. Photo: Supplied.

Bertolin reacts that he is deeply honoured to take on the gig. "It is an inspiring professional challenge, and I am excited to engage with audiences in Aotearoa in creating a programme that shares with them the riches of contemporary cinema.

"This opportunity feels especially meaningful to me because my earliest and fondest cinephile memories include the enchantment of viewing early Jane Campion short films on the Italian PBS back in 1989, as well as being dazzled by the rapturous discovery of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures at the 1994 Venice International Film Festival. I feel truly enthused to work with and for New Zealand audiences and filmmakers exactly on the 30th anniversary of Heavenly Creatures and of Lee Tamahori's Once Were Warriors."

Harsh realities

This change comes just weeks after respected Aotearoa film veteran Ant Timpson announced he wasn't returning to his role with NZIFF after an association that goes back three decades.

As covered previously on The Big Idea - Timpson noted that the NZIFF needed "a major restructuring from top to bottom". 

Timpson stated "The exhibition scene and entire film landscape has changed dramatically and the festival at times feels like a shadow of its former self and like many others around the world, it will need to adapt in a major way to survive in the future.

"I wish everyone at Fest HQ a lot of luck for the future and hope to see fresh blood and clever innovation used in restructuring it to become more contained, robust and experiential."

Bertolin certainly constitutes fresh blood - but The Big Idea understands there are presently no plans to restructure, although NZIFF has noted that further announcements will be made over the coming months ahead of the festival’s launch in July. 

When asked for comment, Fitzgerald told The Big Idea "There is no getting around the fact that this is an enormously difficult time for events operators in New Zealand, for arts organisations and for central cities more generally -- around the world festivals are facing real challenges. That is certainly our experience. 

"It's been a difficult and disruptive few years, and we want to acknowledge that it has been a tough time for our team.

"We've had to take a long and hard look at what we need to do to make this festival, loved by so many people, viable in the short, medium and long term. While staying true to its core values, a refresh and reconfigure is needed for the future and we have developed a strategy for the next 10 years of which 2024 is year one.  

"Several Programmers have now proactively chosen to step back from their strands after 20 years or more in those positions.  We are saddened by their departure and grateful to them for their mahi over the many, many years.    

"During conversations with our Programmers and wider staff, there was overwhelming feedback that NZIFF needed an Artistic Director and we've taken this on board, appointing Paolo for our 2024 festival.

"We are committed to presenting the best festival experience possible and so we have consolidated the festival for 2024 to ensure that we can offer audiences unique and festive film going. 

"We have identified opportunities to enhance the film festival experience for 2024 and we look forward to sharing festival highlights in coming months.”

Back in November, NZIFF released the festival’s 10-year strategy, Te Ahua o te Whānau Mārama - in which the organisation acknowledged the significant impacts of operating within the challenging climate of a global pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis in recent years and - outlined its plans to adapt the festival to ensure its future viability.

Fitzgerald underlines, “Paolo’s appointment is the first major step in rebuilding the festival to ensure its longevity and excellence and we are excited about engaging new artistic leadership and vision.”

Bertolin's debut at the helm of NZIFF will see screening in four cities across eight venues - opening in Wellington on 31 July, followed by Auckland on 7 August, Dunedin on 14 August, and Christchurch on 15 August.