Chapter Nine – New Currents in the Mainstream: The 1990s

By Ann Hardy. Summary by Jakki Galloway

The Piano (Jane Campion, 1993)

In the early 1990s Gaylene Preston and Robin Laing made Ruby and Rata (1990) and Bread and Roses (1993), before Preston made War Stories Our Mothers Never Told Us (1995). Jane Campion made An Angel at My Table (1990), based on Janet Frame’s life, which won seven awards at the Venice Film Festival.

Multiplexes were increasing audience numbers in New Zealand.

In 1994, Once Were Warriors by Lee Tamahori became the best-selling film released in New Zealand to date.

“Overseas viewers were fascinated to see New Zealand portrayed as a densely urban battle zone, where typically it had been presented to them as a fresh landscape with isolated vignettes of human activity.” p 234, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History

Revisions of history became popular. Desperate Remedies by Stewart Main and Peter Wells was released in 1993. The Piano (1993) by Jane Campion won the Palme d'Or (Supreme prize) at the Cannes Film Festival (along with the Chinese film Farewell My Concubine). It went on to win Best Original Screenplay (Jane Campion) and Best Supporting Actress (Anna Paquin) at the Academy Awards in 1994.

During these years the support culture necessary for sustaining a film industry was developing:

  • 1993 saw the establishment of the Moving Image Centre in Auckland under the leadership of Keith Hill – it aimed to bring together different types of film through exhibitions and assist with the distribution of works that were hard to get hold of.
  • in 1994, the Film Commission took 13 shorts to the international industry market and two were selected for Cannes Film Festival (Stroke by Christine Jeffs and Eau de la Vie by Simon Baré).
  • in 1994 the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council was renamed Creative New Zealand. Two years later its film fund was renamed the Screen Innovation Fund. This was often used to create more experimental work by artists like Phil Dadson, Lisa Reihana and Merylyn Tweedie.

At this time within the sector, particularly at the Film Commission (who are the primary funders of film), debate arose about the purpose of New Zealand’s film industry – was it more important to contribute to New Zealand culture (Chairman of the Board, David Gascoigne’s view) or to its commerce (Chief Executive, Jim Booth’s view).

Reflecting the new National Government’s policies it became more and more important for the film industry to become commercially viable. The New Zealand Trade Development Board – TradeNZ – (now New Zealand Trade and Enterprise) was also enlisted to promote the industry and New Zealand as a source of labour and locations. When Phil Pryke took over as the Chair of the Film Commission in 1993, he declared his aims were “making movies more market driven”. p 244, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History

But “this mottled texture of moderate successes and several failures was such a contrast to the preceding period that by the beginning of 1997, the industry was riddled with dissatisfaction.” p 250, New Zealand Film: An Illustrated History

Film Commission Chief Executive Richard Stewart left and Ruth Harley took over and decided to focus on investing in low-budget productions – as she explained the success rate was no different from the big budgets.

In 1998, ScreenvisioNZ was developed – an equal parts collaboration between the Film Commission, NZ on Air, TVNZ and Portman Films (a British company). It funded Via Satellite (1998), Savage Honeymoon (2000), Scarfies (1999), Stickmen (2001) and Snakeskin (2001). Unfortunately, however, TVNZ and Portman Films dropped out of the partnership in 2001.


Activity 25: Once Were Warriors – A close reading exercise.

Activity 26: What is a New Zealand film? – Have a class debate.


FORWARD to Chapter Ten – The Jackson Effect: Late 1990s to 2005

BACK to Chapter Eight – After the Boom: The Second Half of the 1980s

BACK to Our Film History

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