Story: Creative life

Page 5. Film and broadcasting

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Watching movies, videos or DVDs is one of the most popular cultural activities for New Zealanders: a 2002 survey showed that around 40% of the population participated in these activities over a four-week period. There is a wider range of New Zealand films to watch, and these also attract overseas audiences and acclaim.

Amazing feats

The final movie in Peter Jackson’s screen trilogy The lord of the rings dominated the 2004 Academy Awards. Although not the first movie to win 11 Oscars or all the categories it was nominated for, The return of the king was the first to achieve both records. Guinness World Records point out that the movie was also the fastest ever to gross $US1 billion at the box office. Moreover the first film in the trilogy, The fellowship of the ring, achieved a world record for the most pairs of latex feet made for a movie (over 1,600).

The New Zealand film industry

Boosted by the arrival of talking pictures in the 1920s, a New Zealand film industry developed slowly. The National Film Unit, founded in 1941, nurtured documentary film-making, but few feature films were made before the 1970s. The government-funded New Zealand Film Commission, established in 1978, financially assisted film makers. Movie production boomed from the 1980s.

A world view

Major international recognition for a New Zealand feature film came in 1994 when The piano won an Oscar and a Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or for its director, Jane Campion. Now films like Whale rider and The lord of the rings break box office records around the world. Directors such as Lee Tamahori and Peter Jackson, and actors such as Sam Neill and Kerry Fox are well known beyond New Zealand.

The real thing

Part of the international appeal of the film Whale rider is its authentic New Zealand atmosphere. The story refers to the tale of Paikea, the Polynesian ancestor of the Ngāti Porou tribe, who arrived in New Zealand on the back of a whale. The movie was shot on location in the Ngāti Porou coastal community of Whāngārā. And many of the extras are locals – descendants of Paikea, the first whale rider.

Preserving and promoting film

Film societies and festivals cater to the audience for art-house and documentary film. New Zealand’s film heritage is collected, protected and projected through the efforts of the New Zealand Film Archive (now part of Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision) and Archives New Zealand.

The development of radio and television

Broadcasting is perhaps the most effective means of communicating and shaping culture. Radio arrived in New Zealand in 1922, but it was not until 1960 that television was introduced. Additional channels and colour television were not available until the 1970s. About this time, substantial local content appeared, particularly drama series and soap operas, which were the forerunners of favourites such as Shortland Street.

Change and choice

With deregulation from state control in the 1980s, there was a sudden increase in radio and television stations, including pay television. In 2004 New Zealand had three major free-to-air television channels, a number of pay television networks, and more than 200 radio stations including two national non-commercial radio networks, National Radio and Concert FM.

Serving community needs

Ensuring more local content on radio and television is a major aim of the Broadcasting Commission (known as New Zealand on Air) and is behind the restructuring of Television New Zealand as a Crown-owned company with a charter. Another aim is to provide programmes specifically for Māori. There are 21 Māori radio stations, a national Māori-language news service, and a Māori television channel. Pacific Island and other immigrant and community groups have started their own radio stations and have programmes on public-access radio.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Creative life - Film and broadcasting', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 May 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 8 Feb 2005