NZFC Chair Kerry Prendergast has announced that Dave Gibson will leave the organisation in January (2018), four years after becoming CEO.
Prendergast said the Board had reluctantly accepted Gibson’s resignation. “The change Dave effected during his tenure at the NZFC has resulted in an organisation which is more outward looking and engaged with the industry. I know his leadership will be missed by both the staff and the film industry.”
Like most NZFC CEOs, Gibson has been mostly liked by the individuals and teams he’s supported and those who’ve agreed with the direction in which he’s led the agency. Others have been ambivalent about or opposed to either the strategies and decisions he’s implemented or his style of leadership.
Gibson said in a statement, “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last few years but have always believed CEOs shouldn’t stay too long in organisations like the NZFC. I’m not sure what I’ll do next, but I hope it will be as exciting and fulfilling.” It seems unlikely he’ll follow Ruth Harley and Graeme Mason to become the third consecutive NZFC CEO crossing the ditch to head up Scroz.
During his tenure Gibson has pushed for the local industry to have greater engagement with Asia in general and China specifically. Ironically, the announcement of his departure comes during the Shanghai International Film Festival and SIFF Market, in which the NZFC has been an active participant in recent years. Gibson also pushed for greater diversity within the agency and the work and people it supports. Over the last two years, the numbers of projects supported with female directors, writers, and producers has grown significantly. The agency is currently offering a scholarship specifically for Maori wahine directors.
Like many a state agency, the NZFC has continued to survive with little if any increase in government funding (although the value of the Lottery grant, which provides the bulk of production funding, has increased in years when there have been significant Powerball jackpots). While PM John Key was a strong supporter of the industry and – eventually – the incentive schemes that attract inbound and co-production titles, the present powerbrokers of Bill English and Steven Joyce have never been fans.
The NZFC under Gibson has had to cut its cloth and, while there have been increases in spending on some activities, there have been commensurate cuts elsewhere.
In his time as CEO Gibson has also closed down the NZFC’s sales agency, which met with some opposition at the time. It’s fair to note that many of the most successful producers were already doing independent deals for their films before that happened. He also didn’t renew the Business Development Scheme, and is on record saying he believes the much lower-cost Boost scheme is delivering better results and value.
Looking to the future, the NZFC has launched its own VOD platform, NZ Film on Demand. Gibson last year introduced GPS2026, an umbrella for activities, including masterclasses, workshops and conference sessions, to explore what the industry might look like in a decade’s time.
Gibson also introduced a greater focus on “career”, which has meant stronger emphasis on feature films and a filmmaker’s steps towards them. The flipside has been a reduction in the amount of short films the NZFC supports through its Fresh and Premiere Shorts schemes. The latter scheme was renamed Premiere Pathways and now supports other outcomes as well as shorts.
Since Gibson took over the reins following the departure of Graeme Mason, the NZFC has been involved in the financing of over 40 films, with 2016 as one of the most successful years for New Zealand films at the box office – and not only because Hunt for the Wilderpeople became the #1 earner of all time. Titles including Mahana, Tickled, Chasing Great, Poi E, the recent One Thousand Ropes and the on-release McLaren and Pecking Order have all done well.
While the NZFC and Film NZ were combined in 2015, largely as a result of growing dissatisfaction with the way Film NZ was being operated, the announcement of Gibson’s departure from the NZFC will reignite the debate about whether NZ should follow the Australian model of combining its two screen content funding agencies into one.