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Hui-A-Tau: NZFC goes back to the future

At the Nga Aho Whakaari hui session presented by the NZFC, Dave Gibson presented, aided and abetted by Jasmin McSweeney, Leanne Saunders and Dale Corlett. announced a new scholarship, and put his two cents into a long-running debate.

Introducing Gibson, Christina Milligan noted that the session was named for Merata Mita, in whose name Sundance has established a scholarship. It was, Milligan said, an indication of the level of esteem in which she was held internationally.

Gibson revisited some of the points he’d made at September’s Big Screen Symposium presentation, that the NZFC wanted to see films reflect the contemporary society of Aotearoa behind and in front of the camera and that diverse voices and diversity of thought lead to a diversity of films.

The NZFC has never had a Māori policy, Gibson noted, but committed to having the conversation about what that should look like. A couple of audience members later objected to the idea of more talk about what was needed, but – in the Q&A at the end of the session – enough different opinions of what such a policy might include or exclude made it apparent that more discussion was necessary.

Among a few stats Gibson presented was that half of NZ’s top 20 best-performing films were Māori, in subject matter, onscreen talent or key creatives. Boy, The Dark Horse, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Mahana, Mt Zion, Once Were Warriors, Poi E, Whale Rider, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted and What We Do in the Shadows are the ten.

But, Gibson noted, what was missing from that list of titles was women directors. As Gibson had noted at the BSS, the NZFC’s gender stats for the last year show strong levels of participation (over 50% in several categories) for women. As Christina Asher had noted in her opening remarks at the hui, Māori directors are over-represented when it comes to NZ films.

Māori women, not so much, although Gibson noted, “We’re not turning them down. They’re not applying.”

At the hui, the NZFC presentation followed panel discussion Waking up to Wahine, featuring Kath Akuhata-Brown, Reikura Kahi, Briar Grace-Smith, Renae Maihi, and Australian Jenny Fraser.

Gibson announced the NZFC’s third gender-based scholarship to follow the JC Cinefem and the Gaylen Preston Directors Award, would specifically target Māori wahine directors. The Ramai Hayward will aim to support Māori wahine to get scripts to market and production-ready.

The practical details are still being nutted out. Unlike Jane Campion and Preston, Hayward isn’t still around to lead the process herself. Corlett, speaking for the NZFC’s talenet development team, said they were excited about the scholarship. “We need to break the drought of a Māori wahine making released features since Merata.”

Saunders noted, “It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate our successes. Three upcoming titles, Pork Pie, The Changeover and The Inland Road have Māori protagonists. Merata and Maui’s Hook, driven by Māori creatives, are on the way.”

While Hunt for the Wilderpeople was the first film into production from the He Ara scheme, Gibson noted that schemes intended to boost Māori filmmaking (such as Te Paepae) hadn’t been especially successful in generating results. That wasn’t an issue exclusive to schemes focused on Māori, Gibson observed, saying the NZFC’s modest Boost scheme (which supports producers with c$50,000) had so far delivered better results than the much higher-value Business Development Scheme.

With the head of the Berlinale’s Generation programme, Maryanne Redpath, in the audience, Gibson noted, “An A-list festival selection is pretty key to the success of films internationally, because that’s where international audiences and agents often see them first.”

Gibson praised McSweeney for the good relationships she’d built with sales agents and festivals over a long period of time. “We judge our success by your success,” he told the audience.

On the subject of the Māori policy, Gibson mused on what it might look like. Should it be an informal one, across the whole organization, a dedicated unit such as Screen Australia has? A combination, something different?

“I’d be interested in your responses,” Gibson concluded.

After Whetu Fala noted a difference between being diverse and being tangata whenua, Waihoroi Shortland took up Gibson’s offer more directly.

“What’s changing?” he began. “You’re still white. You put some numbers up to try to convince us about how diverse we are, but you water our success down until we’re the same as everyone else.

“When you say we’ve got 10 of the top 20 films, you reduce our success down to 50%. We’ve got eight of the top 10 – that’s 80%.

“And we’re coming for the other 20,” he added to much laughter. “20 years ago we were saying we’re ready to steal from the best in the industry to be the best ourselves. From those results we’ve stolen pretty well.

“We don’t want to ride on the coat tails of others any more. We want the bloody coat. We want to strut.”

After praising Fala for her discretion, Shortland concluded, “I’m turning into a grumpy old man.”

“We asked for your input,” responded Gibson with a smile.

Gibson reiterated his commitment to ensuring that discussions about a Māori policy got going. The NZFC will announced the application criteria and more information for the Ramai Hayward before the end of the year.

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