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SPADA2017: that’s all folks

To be honest, I went down to Wellington for the SPADA conference of 2017 more out of a sense of duty than excitement. One factor in my mood was the disappointing news that Jane Campion had withdrawn from the “In Conversation” session that was scheduled to close the conference; but countering that was a little frisson at the prospect of hearing Jacinda Ardern speak, even if only for a few minutes.

Truthfully, I was more enthralled by the prospect of catching up with a few mates, both within and outside the screen industry, as anything else. But when I entered the venue, the sense of energy, enthusiasm, even excitement, was definitely palpable.

PM Jacinda Ardern cranked it up in her opening address. In contrast, Jane Campion surprised us by not being her usual fluent, relaxed and friendly self.

MC James Nokise attempted to persuade his audience that the blazing sunshine in Wellington was quite typical – so typical that he remarked on it three times!

Conference’s plenary session was titled “Taking the New Zealand Voice to the World”, following on from last year’s “What is the New Zealand Voice?”

The Candle Wasters, named winners of the New Filmmaker award during the presentations at the end of the first day, outlined their methodologies of working in the creation of their various web series.

The midday break was filled with “The Great Screenrights’ Lunch Featuring The South Pacific Pictures’ Big Pitch”. The food was excellent, as it reportedly is at every SPADA conference; but (and I hesitate to say this, as someone who has pitched projects in similar cicumstances) the standard of pitching appeared to me somewhat average this time.

Despite that, two winners were named.

After lunch, it was the turn of the Film Commission team and the Chair of the Regional Film Offices of New Zealand, Michael Brook. Brief mention was made of an as yet unpublished report from the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, while much of the session was devoted to an announcement of a Memorandum of Understanding signed that very morning between the Film Commission and RFONZ.

Said Dave Gibson, the outgoing CEO of the Film Commission: “The protocols around international queries will make everything much easier and clearer for everyone”.

Amie Mills, TVNZ’s children’s and digital commissioner, and David Kleeman sat down with Janette Howe to talk about kids and HeiHei, the new NZ On Air-funded platform dedicated solely to children’s content.

Transport was thoughtfully provided for delegates to move to the Roxy Cinema for an evening of networking and drinks. The upstairs hall was crammed. But I was a little surprised at how few of the crowd took advantage of the opportunity to watch the film that was exec-produced by the new Investment Executive at the Film Commission, Englishman Christopher Moll, most preferring to continue to chat and imbibe for the duration.

I did watch the movie, and I’m glad I did. I’m not generally into zombie-horror, though The Girl With All The Gifts was described by its EP as “elevated genre” (and not because we were on the second floor).

It was disappointing to hear from Mr Moll that despite an excellent critical reception (86% on Rotten Tomatoes), it has been sold to most western territories but not to Australia and New Zealand; and even more disappointing to be told that certain territories refused to take it on simply because it has a black female lead!

The second day, or half-day to be more accurate, saw a much smaller crowd. Whether it was because of Jane Campion’s withdrawal from the scheduled “In Conversation” session published in earlier drafts of the programme, it’s hard to say.

Returning from Day 1, David Kleeman spoke on VR and kids.

In parallel with Kleeman’s session, there was an extra session programmed at the last minute with guest Angus Finney.



Without the usual concluding session that is usually lighthearted, relaxed, and entertaining, the conference ended on a somewhat flat note. There was no rousing final speech; just a quiet announcement from MC Nokise that the conference was over, and invitation to enjoy lunch.

Day Two was quiet compared with Day One, but the first day more than compensated for that. As did the opportunity to catch up with old colleagues and mates, and meet new ones – a major purpose of any such conference.