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Labour’s arts policy

Not unlike Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, much of Labour’s newly-released arts policy looks good on the surface, but it’s unclear what it might taste like.

Film gets a high billing, presented as one of the highlights at the top of the document

Continue to support the New Zealand film industry including reviewing incentives to ensure benefits to the domestic industry are maximised.

although “keep on keeping on” isn’t really headline-grabbing stuff, especially if you plan to keep on with what the other side put in place.

However, there’ll certainly be support for the statement that Labour will “ensure that we
build and support our domestic film making sector, and not just focus on attracting overseas
projects” given the present government’s tendency to smile in agreement when in the presence of filmmmaking royalty and look the other way when the part of the industry that doesn’t work on high-profile maga-budget international productions is going through very tough times, as was happening last year.

Labour rightly reminds voters that Labour governments introduced incentives – both the ad hoc arrangements around Lord of the Rings, which were formalised into the Large Budget Screen Production Grant, and the Screen Production Incentive Fund with its benefits for local productions.

While acknowledging the increases in rates accompanying National’s folding of these two schemes into the NZ Screen Production Grant, Labour feels there’s more to be done “to maximise gains for the domestic industry as much as possible”.

The party will, if elected, ensure the scheme “caters to both the Wellington and Auckland screen industry”. Sorry, Mainlanders, you’ve clearly been written off as either rabid righties or just not worthy of Labour love.

Labour will also take a look at infrastructure needs, “particularly in Auckland”. Given the long-running argument that Auckland needs more studio space and the loss of some of the AFS facility to a fire last week, that particular offer will also be welcome.

Much of the rest of the policy around film could come in any colour.

“ensuring that New Zealand is promoted as a premier location for international film and screen production … ensure that our own stories are told … foster links between film and tourism opportunities.

They’re all policies National could argue it supports and/or has acted on.

One worrying policy from Labour is “ensure that all grants (including the New Zealand Film Commission) are keeping up with changing distribution of film”. There’s nothing wrong with the idea, but the phrasing smacks of being written by someone who has no idea what they’re writing about. One hopes that wouldn’t extend to the nuts and bolts of such a policy, but – regardless of who’s in power – the chances aren’t great.

Playing to the Gallery
One group which has argued unsuccessfully with the present government will be heartened by the announcement. Game developers have long made the case that, like filmmakers, they need some early career assistance as much as they need the NZTE support provided to proven winners in the field.

Labour highlights the industry’s skills shortage, and proposes to “work with industry and the Tertiary Education Commission to ensure that training [is] keeping pace with domestic demand”. Media design School was ahead of that particular curve, developing game industry degree-level qualifications, although the courses haven’t been running long enough to be closing the skills gap as fast as it’s opened.

The really good news for game development companies is the commitment from Labour to “make video games an eligible format within the New Zealand Screen Production Grant and for the PDV”. The industry has long argued it should be eligible. Despite some local successes, NZ companies are operating in a global market where many of the natural competitors, the UK and Canada, Malaysia and Singapore in particular, do offer incentives on inbound work.

There’s a huge and unexploited opportunity for Labour to attract young voters around such policy, although at present Internet-Mana’s party Party branding seems to be doing a good job with that demographic.

Creating and owning IP was the shiny new bauble at the heart of the present government’s arguments last year about how the screen industry should reinvent itself rather than expect extra incentive support. This year there’s hardly been a word muttered about it. As was clear to anyone not wearing ideologically-tinted glasses at the time, creating/owning IP and service work, be it on Avatar on a PlayStation game, were not mutually exclusive models.

Labour notes that it “supported the introduction of the Copyright Act”, but will review it to ensure it “balances the right of artists to be remunerated and of consumers to participate in modern society”. Ignoring the fact that it’s only in the music industry where artists commonly hold copyright on material, it’s a statement shy on detail. Certainly, the Copyright Act has not been put to the use for which it was intended.

In the years since the Act was first being mooted the NZ Screen Association (formerly NZFACT), which represents the interests of the major US studios here, has moved towards promoting awareness and compliance much more through education and engagement than the threat of legal action.

Aucklanders interested in debating parties’ policies around the screen industry can attend next week’s Screen industry Election Forum. Party reps include Labour’s Jacinda Arden (Spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage) and National’s (former TV producer) Melissa Lee at Unitec. As is helpful when putting the world to rights, the bar will be open late.

Wellingtonians can get in a couple of days earlier. On Monday (11 August) the Coalition for Better Broadcasting is hosting a debate at St Johns in the City Hall. Boradcasting Minister Craig Foss and Kris Faafoi will represent the big guns.

Labour’s Arts, Culture & Heritage policy document is available here.