The New Zealand Film Commission and Behind-the-Camera Diversity Between 1997-2022
As the leading body for film in New Zealand, the New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) plays a key role in fostering the professional development of all filmmakers in the country. White male filmmakers have dominated behind-the-camera talent (directors, screenwriters, and producers) since the NZFC was first founded in 1978. In the last 40 years, however, the country has become increasingly defined by multiculturalism and film tastes have evolved. In 2022 nine out of ten of the most successful films at the local box have non-white protagonists, but of the nine directors that made these films, five are white and male. This thesis tracks the efforts made by the NZFC to foster diversity in behind-the-camera talent to help redress this imbalance.
The thesis is divided into three distinct eras each focusing on the work done by the agency during the tenures of the five CEOs in charge during the 25-year period examined. What is revealed is that the agency began its work in the diversity space focusing on its relationship with Māori and the obligations between the Crown and Tangata Whenua. The next phase, impacted by cuts owing to both the 2008 World Financial Crisis and a loss of income due to the rise of streaming platforms extended the focus beyond Māori and onto Pasifika and Asian filmmakers and culminated in the gender policy which ensured women directors were allocated 50 percent of funding. The final phase saw the release of the agency’s diversity policy, a document that aims to engage with all minority ethnic and cultural groups in New Zealand, yet only offers very broad over-arching principles which are at odds with the focused nature of the other official policy documents, including Te Rautaki Māori and the gender policy.
The thesis includes case studies of films, filmmakers, and production companies that help to map the ways in which the NZFC has fostered diversity over the 25-year period. Ultimately what is revealed is that focused intervention by the NZFC into cultural and ethnic minority groups helps create a more distinct and enriched national cinema.