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Lowdown: Film Festival Shake Up

16 May 2024

A new face takes up a Chair position that hasn't been up for grabs in two decades, creative opportunities offered and accepted, a big platform debut and more concerns for the local production sector.

The changes keep coming for the The New Zealand International Film Festival.

The Trust Board has revealed the appointments of a new Chair and a new Deputy Chair - bringing to an end Catherine Fitzgerald's 20 plus year tenure overseeing the board.

Fitzgerald signalled her intentions last year as the organisation's revised strategy - Te Ahua o te Whānau Mārama – a 10-year approach -  which called for a refresh of the Trust Board's membership.

Kaine Thompson is the new chair, having joined the board in April last year, one of many national and local arts and social services boards including the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. 

Of the review and new direction, Thompson states, “We were faced with a stark choice in 2023 – shut down, like so many arts and culture events have had to do, or radically refresh. The last three years brought the festival to the brink. 

"Our Board and our team are committed to our audiences, so we knew retiring the festival was not an option. We are excited about 2024 and future film festivals.”

New Deputy Chair Sharon Menzies adds, “The circumstances of the last three years forced us to look at how to preserve the future of this national arts, culture and events treasure. 

"A new strategy, a refreshed approach, appointment of Paolo Bertolin as Artistic Director and Sally Woodfield as Executive Director - this was all challenging but necessary to ensure our audiences would see us back this year and beyond.”

But Festival fixture Fitzgerald isn't going far.

Thompson states, “We are grateful to Catherine for her deeply committed service as Chair, particularly through extremely challenging times. We are also grateful both Catherine and Robin (Laing) continue their association with the Film Festival by accepting appointments as Trustees for another term.”

Thompson will Chair a board that will include Menzies, Fitzgerald, Laing, Chris Hormann, Andrew Langridge, Tearepa Kahi and Toby Manhire.

Putting the drama back on screen

While the board room shuffle continues - there are changes afoot for the 2024 incarnation of the Festival it oversees as well.

This year's NZIFF, which opens in Wellington on 31 July, has announced 10 strands or sections - designed to give audiences clear insight of the cinematic experiences they can expect and of the artistic identity of the selected films. While the full programme will be revealed in July, a flagship title has been released for each section.

Māhutonga will be a crucial strand for local filmmakers - focuses on "Illuminating the pathway to the storytellers from Aotearoa" which will be headlined by the Lucy Lawless-directed Never Look Away.

The other sections are 

  • Fresh - First narrative features from brand new voices of international cinema
  • Frames - Works that explore and expand the language of documentary filmmaking
  • Portraits - Character-driven narrative and documentary films
  • Widescreen - Narrative and documentary films that  showcase diverse realities from across the globe
  • Nocturnal - An evening strand devoted to irreverent genre and out-of-the-box films
  • Rhythms - Narrative and documentary films centered around music and its forms
  • Visions - Works showcasing the distinct cinematic style of revered masters and emerging talents
  • Journeys - Presenting films from specific countries or regions, beginning in The Himalayas
  • Treasures - A section of hand-picked classics and recently restored films  

The winners of the Fresh and Frames competitions will be determined by votes from Wellington and Auckland audiences.

New Artistic Director Paolo Bertolin states "I envision the festival as an important component in the ecosystem of Aotearoa filmmaking. It should provide an essential nexus between filmmakers and professionals and their audiences, offering a platform to amplify the impact of both contemporary and historical New Zealand cinema.”

On the same day, Doc Edge Festival announced its 2024 programme, with 43 features (including a record-breaking 12 world premieres), 23 shorts and 28 immersive projects. 

This year, the Academy Awards qualifying international documentary festival is in Christchurch for the first time - with Ōtautahi sure to have a cinematic buzz from 19-30 June before Doc Edge heads to Wellington (3-14 July), Auckland (3-14 July) and online streaming (15-31 July).

Among the dozen world premieres includes Australian based director Luke Graham's documentary on the man behind the rugby league myth, New Zealand's player of the century, renowned hardman and his dad, Mark Graham with Sharko.

Also announced in the latest tile drop, Bruce Robert Fraser's Spontaneous Combustion on the legacy of Barry Brickell's Driving Creek Railway: a productive pottery with numerous kilns, a bush railway, a native bird and bush sanctuary and a lively creative hub drawing artists from around the globe.

Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo's Mauri unveils the profound ancestral wisdom woven into Māori healing traditions, illuminating a restorative path to mend the wounds inflicted by colonialism. The film is promoted as "a testament to the radiant beauty and unbreakable resilience of Māori culture."

Hawai'i calls for Pacific film talent

New Zealand film makers are in demand overseas as well - with a short window open for Pacific creatives to get seen overseas.

The 13th annual Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture (FestPAC) are calling for film submissions from Pacific nations to be screened during the upcoming festival's Hō‘ike‘ike Performing Arts program in Honolulu, Hawai‘i this June. 

Yup, next month, so don't try planning something from scratch.

The application window closes 21 May (NZT) for new media, feature-length and short film narratives and documentaries created by indigenous Pacific people.

Cheryl Hirasa, Executive Director of Pacific Islanders in Communication told The Big Idea "We're calling on filmmakers from Aotearoa to share their narratives to a global audience during the festival in Hawai‘i. There are strong ties connecting Aotearoa to Hawai‘i and we aim to foster cross-cultural understanding and appreciation through film and new media. 

"It is our hope to champion a diverse array of Pacific voices through the Hō‘ike‘ike program and we welcome you to share your stories." 

Selected films become part of official festival programming and would be included in international media promotion and while travel and financial support are not part of this opportunity, the offer comes for those hoping to get their story in front of a global audience, international film festival representatives and other funders.

Off the block

The news is far more bleak in the local screen production space, with uncertainty and daunting realities hitting home for many talented technical and production staff - as well as those on camera.

In the same week that long-running shows Sunday and Fair Go brought down the curtain in the midst of the media cost-cutting binge, The Block NZ had production stopped, the show cancelled and more than 200 staff losing a valuable and previously reliable gig.

The flow-on effect on other elements of the creative community can't be ignored either - this is a big concern.

SPADA president Irene Gardiner told The Big Idea “With TVNZ and Three cutting approximately $50 million out of local production because of falling advertising revenue, sadly The Block will be one of many popular local shows that we lose. 

"This is why we have been lobbying so hard for Government to levy the international streamers so that they contribute to local production here having heavily affected the decline in advertising revenue.”

Learning Network's big debut

One day in, The Big Idea's new career-focused platform is off to a flying start.

The Learning Network launched on Wednesday (15 May) with a series of learning modules and interviews with talented and intriguing creatives like Hayley King (AKA Flox), Sarah Foster-Sproull, Lissy and Rudi Robinson-Cole, Dominic Hoey, Dina Jezdic and Henry Hargreaves.

The feedback has been flooding in and the advice and inspiration being offered to creatives of all stages certainly appears to be hitting its mark early.

With a library of resources from some of the sector's leading organisations and a new digital community to be part of, there is plenty to engage with.

With new content dropping weekly over the coming months, The Learning Network's set to be one to watch in 2024.

Eye to the future

Kim Ireland, Kei hea a Tiki_ (installation view at Refinery ArtSpace),2022. Courtesy of the artist.jpg
Kim Ireland, Kei hea a Tiki? (2022), installation view at Refinery ArtSpace. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Another promising artistic talent has been embraced by Iris Fisher Scholarship, with Nelson-based Kim Ireland winning the national award of $5,000 to support an outstanding visual/fine arts postgraduate student

In her final year of a Master of Māori Visual Arts at Massey University Te Kunenga Ki Pūrehuroa, Ireland’s practice is driven by the examination of a fragmented past, and the desire to explore the cultural and social mechanisms that form Aotearoa’s history. 

Ireland remarks “I am very grateful to be awarded the Iris Fisher Scholarship, this award will support me in continuing my art practice. I would especially like to acknowledge Kura Te Rawiri and the rest of the kaiako from the Masters of Māori Visual Arts at Toioho ki Āpiti for their tautoko with my toi mahi.”

Ireland has said: “Through rangahau and the power of pūrākau these liminal spaces are often unveiled as sites that affect the collective psyche. However, there is also joy as there is a visible resurgence in Te Ao Māori, and what has been repressed has been reclaimed. But not without struggle. Consequently, this constant push has evolved into a multidisciplinary practice that is guided by mātauranga Māori. It is this directive that has my work moving within the realm of image, installation, and object, although always speaking to my initial practice - the drawn line.”
Ireland’s most recent toi mahi is expressed through uku, Papatūānuku. Mana Māna is
a series of gourd formed sculptures that look to mana wāhine atua hine-ahu-one,
hine-ti-tama and hine-nui-te-po, to acknowledge the connection through whakapapa.

With a solo exhibition, Mana Māna coming up in August at the Ashburton Art Gallery,  her previous shows include Kei hea a Tiki? (2022) at Refinery ArtSpace, Nelson; 24 (2022) at The Gallery, Nelson; and push/pull (2021) at Ardern, Nelson. 

Aotearoa's latest anthem offering

Another milestone in the countdown to Aotearoa hosting the World Choir Games in July - with the launch of the event's official song.

Written by NZ Music Hall of Famer Don McGlashan and Hana Mereraiha, Te Taukaea Tangata – Breathing in, breathing out is sung by highly acclaimed perfromers Marlon Williams, Tauranga Mayoralty candidate Ria Hall and members of Viva Voce, with Sean Donnelly (better known as SJD) and McGlashan contributing the musical back up.

Loosely translated as ‘the strands of humanity’, the song will be shared the choral community around the world and will play at the Olympics-style opening ceremony on 10 July.