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Government policy and the film industry

Films get made where the taxpayer lends a hand

Jason Smith

Creative metrics

As bit players go, New Zealand's film industry casts an impressively large shadow across the silver screen. Middle Earth-sized blockbusters as well as documentaries and short films continually grab attention at film festivals around the world. Projects that would have glimmered with mere potential a decade ago, before the Rings thing, now twinkle with a bright incandescence all their own.

Promises and prophesies aside, keeping it real, reel after reel, means taking a look at how we compare with other film-making nations. New Zealand accounts for about one-half of one percent of global industry investment in feature films. Mere minnows, we seem to achieve flickering miracles with this relatively small investment level. As the chart shows, this is comparable with Australia, though less than Canada. Unsurprisingly, the USA hogs the limelight with about 60 percent of the feature film spend in the world.

Investment money flow is one measure on the production side of the film industry. On the consumption side of the industry, a very different set of trends emerges with the number of cinema admissions per capita. The general decline in cinema-going may be linked to the increasing quality of home theatre gadgets and technological advances that now beam video-on-demand movies over the internet, as well as competition with other digital entertainment forms like gaming. New Zealand is seeing a slower decline in cinema-going than the US. And who would have guessed there were fewer people out there in the dark in Canada?

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Source: Screen Digest

The complex frame of government policy links these trends of production and consumption. On one hand, policies to encourage investment (including foreign investment) in films are managed by organisations like the New Zealand Film Commission. Policies are put together by people who watch the political polls on all manner of issues (See 'Bigger than Braindead’, Idealog #8, page 98). Political appointees govern national film organisations here and all around the world, which are seen as strategically and culturally important ships of state. If film shines brightly, the sector may be in line for more money to further encourage more investors, in a virtuous circle. Or maybe things don't go so well, and the system gets changed again.

There's a King Kong-sized bit of monkey business whenever any changes are suggested to the highly-politicised business of funding films. Fighting over peanuts is enough to drive anyone bananas. That's the depressing truth about how politics affects what you see at the movies. Put you off your popcorn?