Story: Arts festivals

Page 5. Film, literary and other festivals, 1960s onwards

All images & media in this story

First film festivals

Growing from the film programme in the Auckland Festival of the Arts, the Auckland Film Festival began in 1969. Ten thousand tickets were sold in the first year, 30,000 in 1971 and 98,500 in 2013. The film festival filled a gap for cinemagoers, who were suffering under a commercial cinema duopoly. The Auckland Film Society worked with the Adelaide Film Festival to cut costs and bring a greater selection of films to New Zealand.

Five films a day

The International Film Festival is a highlight on many a film buff’s calendar. Svend Andersen, who works in the film industry, takes annual leave for the Wellington festival. Andersen attends about 89 of the films at the festival –around five movies per day. He later blogs about the films. He says the festival encourages him to take risks with the movies he sees and that even if he sees something he doesn’t like, he knows that something good will come up soon.

The Wellington Film Festival began in 1972, and in 1977, Dunedin and Christchurch joined in, establishing their own festivals. The individual festivals joined together in 2009 and the festival, now known as the New Zealand International Film Festival, tours the country each year.

Specialist audiences

Out Takes, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, takatāpui and fa'afafine film festival, was founded in 1995 and in 2014 continued to run annually in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. There were also a variety of specific foreign language film festivals, including the Alliance Française French Film Festival. The Mountain Film Festival (beginning in 2002) and the Reel Earth Environmental Film Festival (2004) appeal to New Zealanders’ love of the outdoors. Documentary and short film festivals have also developed, with Show Me Shorts established in 2006, Documentary Edge in 2004 and Tropfest in 2012.

Māori on film

A Māori film festival is held at Taihoa Marae in Wairoa every year. Established in 2005, the aim of the festival is to present the indigenous voice. The event supports young film makers and film students as well as presenting a number of awards. The films are then toured nationally as the Matariki film festival. Another indigenous film festival, the Māoriland film festival, was first held in Ōtaki in 2014. The programme included over 30 events, with indigenous actors, directors and producers discussing their work as well as film showings.

Literary festivals

The Storylines Festival of New Zealand Children's Writers and Illustrators was established in 1993. It brings authors and illustrators to children all over the country, organising family days, school tours, dramatic performances and competitions.

The Auckland Writers Festival began in 1999 as an annual event on the literary calendar. It started with around 5,000 attendees in 1999 and grew to 29,000 in 2013. By 2013 1,200 writers had participated in the festival. In Wellington, Writers and Readers Week is part of the New Zealand Festival, and Christchurch hosted the WORD festival in 2014.

Māori and Pacific cultural festivals

Te Matatini is a competitive kapa haka festival established in in 1972. Held in different locations every two years, it attracts over 30,000 performers and spectators.

Auckland’s Pasifika was the first stand-alone Pacific Island festival and began as a one day event in 1992. The largest Pacific Island festival in the world, Pasifika attracted 90,000 visitors over two days in 2014. There were other Pacific Island festivals, including Pacific Arts Festival in Christchurch (2001–10) which was established by Pacific Underground, and Positively Pasifika in Wellington.

Polyfest is a competitive cultural festival for secondary school students. It began in 1976 with just four schools participating, and in 2018 it attracted over 10,000 participants and over 100,000 spectators.


In the early 2000s a midwinter festival developed centring on Matariki, the Māori New Year. Auckland City Council and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa held Matariki events and activities. Concerts from Māori performing artists and events related to celestial navigation have been popular.


The World of Wearable Art (WOW) showcases wearable art and design. Over 300 designs are submitted for competition each year from all over the world. WOW began as a promotion in 1987 but it outgrew its Nelson venue and in 2005 shifted to Wellington to capture a larger audience. Over 50,000 people view the show each year and the festival is a popular part of Wellington’s arts calendar.

Hero and Pride festivals

The Hero and Pride festivals were New Zealand’s main lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender festivals. Auckland’s Hero festival ran from 1992 to 2001 and included the famous Hero parade. After a long gap, the Pride Festival (a new lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender festival) was held in Auckland in 2013 and 2014.

How to cite this page:

Marguerite Hill, 'Arts festivals - Film, literary and other festivals, 1960s onwards', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 May 2024)

Story by Marguerite Hill, published 22 Oct 2014, updated 1 Aug 2016