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Leading Creative Takes Key NZ Film Commission Role

04 Jul 2024

Ainsley Gardiner knows all the ins and outs of filmmaking in Aotearoa - now she's responsible for decisions around what future NZ films get funded.

A big announcement from the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) - with the announcement of filmmaker Ainsley Gardiner as Head of Funding. 

A widely admired producer and director, Ainsley (Ngāti Awa, Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Pikiao and Te Whakatōhea) will start her post on 8 July.

She states “Te Tumu Whakaata Taonga New Zealand Film Commission has a legacy of supporting New Zealand film and filmmaking talent. I have been privileged and grateful to be supported many times by the NZFC and I am ready to now serve this kaupapa. 

"It is clear that NZFC is in a period of rapid change and this, and Annie (Murray’s) leadership, is what attracted me to the role. I look forward to having the opportunity to contribute to a new vision that will empower the next generation of New Zealand’s filmmakers. I can’t wait to get started.”

Chief Executive Annie Murray says she's "delighted" with Gardiner's appointment. 

"She has extensive experience as a producer of some of New Zealand’s most loved films and joins us at a crucial time, as we reshape our organisation to deliver well on our strategic priorities, achieve results within our constrained funding environment and – most importantly of all – ensure we can properly engage with, support and deliver for the film industry into the future. 

"Ainsley will no doubt have a powerful impact leading our team on these initiatives and more.”

Gardiner's track record in the sector is a well-known and impressive one - with more than two dozen short and feature films, documentaries and television drama to her name.

From her early days learning the ropes from the likes of Merata Mita, Cliff Curtis and Larry Parr, Gardiner went on to a noteworthy working partnership with Taika Waititi (producing Waititi shorts Two Cars, One Night and Tama Tu, and working on Eagle vs Shark and Waititi's breakout hit Boy).

Briar Grace-Smith and co-director Ainsley Gardiner on location during the shoot for Cousins. Photo- Libby Hakaraia. jpg.webp
Ainsley Gardiner (right) with co-director Briar Grace-Smith (left) on location during the shoot for Cousins. Photo: Libby Hakaraia.

She was one of nine wåhine Måori filmmakers to write and direct the acclaimed feature film Waru, which earned selection for the 2017 Toronto Film Festival. Her second feature, Cousins, co-directed with the film’s screenplay writer, Briar Grace-Smith, was the top-grossing NZ feature in 2020. 

Most recently, Ainsley has co-directed two seasons of Not Even, a six-part TV comedy for Neon and Sky Open in 2022/2023.

She was one of the producers of 2018’s comedy hit, The Breaker Upperers which premiered at SXSW and sold to Netflix. Ainsley has hosted a short film programme on Māori Television, previously sat on the Māori development arm of the NZFC, Te Paepae Ataata, and as an Advisory Board member of Script-To-Screen’s Story Camp. 

Gardiner has often worked as an external script assessor and mentor for emerging Māori and women writers, directors and producers. In 2018 she was awarded the Mana Wåhine award at the Wairoa Film Festival and also made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to film.

The Head of Funding appointment comes at a pivotal time for NZFC. In a newsletter released on Thursday (4 July), Chair Alastair Carruthers stated that he recognised the organisation's restructuring was causing stress for some, particularly NZFC staff.

"Everything that has happened is to align the organisation to a new strategy recently published in our Statement of Intent (SOI) and Statement of Performance Expectations (SPE).  

"The board has listened carefully to feedback from across the sector and is looking forward to seeing the impact of a sharper direction unfold over the months and years to come." 

Murray noted that as well as Gardiner's appointment,several other appointments will follow. The newsletter confirmed the departure of 11 NZFC staff members over the past six months.

She adds "To give our teams time to adjust to the new structure there is now no development funding deadline on 22 July. And in response to industry feedback, we have made a significant change to the Feature Film Production Investment cap.

"In response to feedback from industry, and in the context of inflation and rising costs, the NZFC Board has agreed to raise the standard funding cap on Feature Film Production Investment from $2 million per film to $2.5m, effective from 1 July 2024."