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Life after Frodo

Idealog Metrics Our movie industry has shaded Australia’s—but can we fund it?

Our movie industry has shaded Australia’s—but can we fund it?

Jason Smith

Telling its own stories in film is something New Zealand does well. Flicks like Sione’s Wedding, Whalerider and The World’s Fastest Indian show us to ourselves, promoting a sense of national identity while entertaining New Zealanders and everyone else at the same time. Our small, smart movie industry is going Dambusters.

New Zealand’s international movie industry revenue ranks above Australia over the last ten years. Recent offerings in Australia, according to their own industry commentators, are ‘dark and depressing’. They seldom tell their stories with wit, grace, charm or humour, though for one brief, shining moment there was a talking pig. As in the chart below, the New Zealand film industry has left our Australian cobbers in the dust.

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Proportion of total global investment in feature films

But casting such an impressive shadow across the silver screen will be harder in times ahead. Gross revenues of the New Zealand screen production industry have been reducing for years. Fewer Yankee dollars already blow around New Zealand screen production companies. Expectations for a continued contraction of movie money mean more belt-tightening is likely. While the amount of homegrown revenue has barely changed, the proportion of homegrown to foreign funds for movies has increased significantly. In a trend unlikely to reverse, our industry is increasingly looking to limited New Zealand revenue sources. Dark clouds ahead.

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Gross revenue and funding sources for New Zealand screen production companies. Sources: Screen Digest, Screen Australia, Australian Film Commission, Statistics New Zealand

In early 2009 an epic dust-storm swirled up around two movie industry events in Australia. Industry administration and funding has been recast into Screen Australia, a brand-new bureaucratic behemoth flush with federal funds, while here the New Zealand Film Commission, Film NZ and NZ On Air remain fragmented. Epic hopes have been pinned on Baz Luhrmann’s Australia alone to blow the cinema-going dust away and help Aussie moviemaking catch up. Dragging a nation with it would always be a risky and desperate strategy for a self-titled movie—where the bloody hell are they now? No Frodo franchise is in sight. Nevertheless, when the dust settles across the ditch, the changing trends in the charts below will be the ones to watch.

Some things don’t change, though. Celebrities, stars, and Hollywood glitz and glamour of the movie industries are just the ticket to keep people cheerful during a depression. They discovered that in the 1930s. Play it again, Sam.