Working on overseas productions
Just as with the first narrative films made in this country in 1912, foreign film-makers continued to arrive in New Zealand in search of inspiring locations. By 2009, however, film-makers such as Hollywood director James Cameron could also call on the services of world-leading special effects company Weta Digital, which employed up to 900 people on fantasy blockbuster Avatar. Local extras and technicians were also employed on the production. With offshore activity no longer assured, difficulties in obtaining finance to make films meant that in the 2010s the industry was struggling.
The Hobbit: an unexpected journey (2012) was Peter Jackson’s blockbuster adventure fantasy produced by Warner Bros, a prequel to The lord of the rings and the first of a three-part series. It is connected with New Zealand through its production base, its locations (mostly altered in appearance by digital effects), some of its key creators, a few of its actors and some of its crew of more than 1,200. Made from global finance for a global audience, The Hobbit: an unexpected journey made nearly US$700 million worldwide in the first three weeks it screened. In New Zealand it had the biggest theatrical release the country has seen – 203 screens in 98 different locations nationally.
New Zealand and Pacific stories
The first-ever Samoan-language feature film, The orator (2011), was a Samoan-New Zealand production shot in Samoa with a local cast. Written and directed by Tusi Tamasese, it stars a diminutive but determined taro farmer, required to assume his father’s chiefly status.
Mt Zion (2013), directed by Tearapa Kahi and produced by Small Axe Films, was funded by the New Zealand Film Commission, the government broadcasting agency NZ On Air, Māori Television and the Māori broadcasting agency Te Māngai Pāho. It is an intensely local story about a Pukekohe potato picker choosing between duty to his whānau and his passion to become a reggae artist. The production and lead creative teams were local people (with the exception of Stan Walker, the Australian-domiciled Māori who plays the lead) as were the crew.
Shopping (2013) was the debut feature of writer-directors Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, whose short film The six dollar fifty man won awards at the Berlin, Sundance and Cannes film festivals. A small-town New Zealand drama set on the Kapiti Coast, shopping won one of the world’s most prestigious awards, the Berlin Film Festival’s Grand Prix, in February 2013.