Auckland's Four Knights Film has emerged as the face of a re-energised New Zealand film industry.

Commercial success and rave reviews for its successful movie The Dark Horse has opened the door to Four Knights Film.

The Dark Horse was the most successful Kiwi movie of 2015 -- taking $1.95 million at the local box office.

Led by producer Tom Hern and director-writer James Napier Robertson, Four Knights is moving on to new projects, backed by Tim Wood, founder of the former leading ISP Ihug, and partner Sacha Wood.

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Hern says commercial results for The Dark Horse in New Zealand and in several overseas markets have made it easier to access the international industry and make more films.

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Film finance is notoriously complex and it is hard equating what constitutes a profit.

But, at this point The Dark Horse has been a success both creatively and commercially.

Hern said: "The key is that our hard money investors "got out" and our commercial partners profited.

"The New Zealand Film Commission recouped a significant portion of its investment and are continuing to do so," Hern said.

US release

The Dark Horse

has been picked up by up-and-coming US distributor Broad Green Pictures.

The American release is on April 1.

"It will be a specialty release at some of the top art-house sites in the major cities across the US, says Hern. "The intent is expanding once critical reception and positive word of mouth kicks in.".
The Dark Horse is based on the life of a charismatic, little-known New Zealand hero, Genesis Potini, played by Cliff Curtis (Once Were Warriors, Whale Rider, Boy). The film also stars James Rolleston (Boy).

Once a heralded chess champion, Genesis has spent the last few battling with severe bipolar disorder.

Curtis has been given high praise for his acting.

A review in the Guardian last April described Curtis' "breathtaking performance, note perfect in every gesture, mesmerising in its conviction".

Cliff Curtis and director James Napier Robertson on the set of The Dark Horse.
Cliff Curtis and director James Napier Robertson on the set of The Dark Horse.

Currently Four Knights Film is working on seven projects.

Hern is producing Pork Pie a reimagined version of the Kiwi classic Goodbye Pork Pie.

Four Knights is being careful to pick the right projects.

"We have to be able to see a clear trajectory to realisation," says Hern

We are working with some exciting international film companies and some new private investors locally. Also some return investors who did well on The Dark Horse and want to be involved again.

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Hern believes the local film industry is healthy now, with new incentives bringing overseas production companies back to film here.

Film professionals are also doing well.

"Taika (Waititi) is in L.A. directing a large-budget Thor film currently and is about to release his latest Kiwi film, Hunt for the Wilderpeople."

Hern said there was "huge international heat" around Robertson.

He will announce his next project soon.

Both Lee Tamahori and Roger Donaldson are back in New Zealand making films.

Hern says that the arrival of Netflix as a publicly listed film buyer is good news for independents.

"It provides another possible revenue stream for content creators, with low overhead one at that (no bricks and mortar!).

"It's a great affordable service, so it also cuts down on piracy, he said.

Strange Bedfellows

RNZ is aligning with TV3 for a new current affairs programme.

RNZ has traditionally been a bit backward with Maori content but seems to be entrenching its current affairs, while TV3 appears to be exiting the genre.

RNZ head of content Carol Hirschfeld confirmed talks were being held with TV3 to discuss content-sharing with the working title Minority Reports.

Carol Hirschfeld, head of programming at Maori Television. Photo / Richard Robinson
Carol Hirschfeld, head of programming at Maori Television. Photo / Richard Robinson

The show will be fronted by Mihi Forbes who joined RNZ six months ago.

Hirschfeld is in talks with independent production company Great Southern Film and television, which is making the show for TV3.

RNZ is still not spelling out its association with TV3, but Hirschfeld said RNZ would not be investing equity.

The show is being 100 per cent funded by taxpayers through Te Mangai Paho, and NZ on Air.

It is understood Forbes -- whose sceptical coverage of the Te Kohanga Reo Trust on Maori TV's Native Affairs caused controversy -- will be on RNZ while fronting the TV3 show.

But at this stage it is not clear how much her talent will be shared.

Mihi Forbes has recently joined Radio New Zealand.
Mihi Forbes has recently joined Radio New Zealand.

It is common now for media organisations to form relationships and share content to reduced costs.

Hirschfeld notes there are not many reporters out there with the correct skillsets.

But co-operation between RNZ and TV3 is intriguing. RNZ has belated moved to improve its Maori coverage.

Both TV3 and Maori TV have suffered upheavals in 2015.

Hirschfeld and Forbes left Maori TV after the controversial appointment of Paora Maxwell as CEO.

Hirschfeld was once executive producer of Campbell Live and was instrumental in hiring John Campbell to RNZ to replace Mary Wilson, who was promoted to a senior management post

Hirschfeld confirmed that the two had different approaches, but Campbell's show would continue the tradition of Checkpoint

Great Southern says RNZ is looking at replaying Forbes' key interview each Sunday.

"Everyone is talking and we hope to have the details confirmed next week," said CEO Phil Smith.

The new show -- which will include a video element -- is set to begin on Monday.