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Investing in a new generation of film-makers

12 February 2004
Hon Steve Maharey
Speech Notes

Investing in a new generation of film-makers

Comments at the presentation of the Robin Laing Women in Film and Television Scholarship. The Film School, Wellington.


Thank you very much for asking me here today. I'm honoured to have been given the task of presenting the Women in Film and Television (Wellington) Robin Laing Scholarship.

Alexandra Bishop's obvious passion for film-making is obvious. The fact that her feet are firmly planted in New Zealand while her vision is to make a stand in a globally connected world make her an appropriate recipient for this inaugural award.

The Robin Laing scholarship

Robin Laing made a similar choice a generation before her.

For more than twenty years she has been making films and promoting women's voices through film. She is the producer of Perfect Strangers and other well-received films such as Mr Wrong, Bread and Roses, and War Stories.

Robin was instrumental in re-establishing the Film School in Wellington in 2000 and was a founding member of WIFT (Wellington). She has worked unstintingly on a number of industry bodies and trusts, generously sharing her time, knowledge and skills with members of her industry.

The naming of the Scholarship we’re celebrating today is a fitting tribute by WIFT (Wellington) to Robin’s role in training and her talents in film production. Her long association with New Zealand film shows her own unfailing willingness to invest hope in the future of the industry.

That hope is now being invested in a new generation of film-makers.

Each year the Scholarship will help one young woman to gain professional satisfaction, advance in her chosen field of film production, and in her turn make a contribution to the New Zealand film industry.

I am particularly pleased to be presenting this scholarship because its purpose, and Robin Laing's background and passions, draw on two of my Ministerial portfolios – those of Broadcasting and Tertiary Education.

The government’s commitment to the creative sector

As you all will know, this government has made an ongoing commitment to defining and strengthening New Zealanders’ perceptions of their own cultural identity. That identity is reflected in the stories we tell, through visual arts, music and song, writing and film and television.

We acknowledge the film and television sectors to our growth as a people and a nation and to our economic well-being. We also that while much has been done there is enormous potential for further growth.

In view of the importance of developing and sustaining the screen industry in particular, the government has already put in place a number of initiatives to ensure that potential can be fulfilled. Overall, government’s funding support for New Zealand film and television production has leapt from $79 million in 1999 to $132 million last year.

That excludes the $22 million to the Film Fund and the recent $10 million increase to the Film Commission’s baseline funding.

We established the New Zealand Film Production Fund with $22 million in 2000 to encourage the making of more New Zealand films. The confidence shown by government in the abilities of film-makers has been borne out by the sensational achievements of the first film to be financed from the Fund – Whale Rider – and I am sure the second (Perfect Strangers) and subsequent films that tell New Zealand stories will also meet with strong international success.

We targeted creative industries in our industry development strategies, with the objective of raising the profiles of our creative people and their products. Within the creative industries, screen production was identified by government as a major contributor to New Zealand’s economic and cultural development.

The Screen Production Industry Taskforce was appointed to consider and recommend ways in which the industry and government could work together to expand opportunities. As most of you will know, Robin Laing was a member of that taskforce and made an invaluable contribution to its work

As Minister of Broadcasting I see achieving significant levels of local content on television and radio as a vital part of New Zealand’s cultural growth. Government’s increased support to NZ On Air testifies to our commitment to funding that growth.

The Television Local Content Group is up and running. It not only sets genre specific targets for the free-to-air networks but also provides a forum for emphasising the quality of programming. In the long-run, this is as important as assessing local content ‘by the yard’.

The Television New Zealand Charter of course requires TVNZ to support and promote the talents and creative resources of New Zealanders and of the independent film and television industry. TVNZ has made a commitment to screen more local content. The extra funding we have allocated to implement the Charter will provide opportunities for many in this audience.

These are not one-off initiatives. We will keep on working to support the screen industry. We make that promise because we know screen production makes a very positive contribution to our GDP, boosts tourism and export earnings, regional growth, employment and professional development opportunities.

The confidence we have in the industry has been borne out in the huge international film successes we’re celebrating this year. It’s put the international spotlight on the whole range of New Zealand film industry professionals. It’s important that we capitalise on that success.

Building a skills base for the screen production industry

Ensuring that we have fully-trained and experienced people to take advantage of new job opportunities is one way of capitalising on that success. It demonstrates the importance of accessible tertiary training that gives people marketable, practical skills – skills that are in demand right now, that hold the potential to provide a substantial career-path and professional development opportunities. And can respond readily to changes in technology, innovations, and tastes.

The Film School’s approach, a firmly industry-based course of training, accords well with government’s belief in the value of partnerships between industry and tertiary education providers. Together, they can enhance immeasurably the opportunities available to emerging talent.

Concluding remarks

But it’s also important that people following career paths have strong support networks and encouragement. These are provided by the likes of organisations such as WIFT, which I know fulfils a vital supporting role – and by individuals who stand as powerful role models and act as mentors to those moving into new fields. They’re immensely important dynamics in a small country.

They’re the sorts of roles filled by gifted people like Robin Laing. I know she is warmly respected not only for her professionalism but also as a role model for young aspiring film makers.

I wish Alexandra Bishop and all students of The Film School the greatest success in their studies and their future careers.


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