Lydia Jenkin 's Opinion

Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Lydia Jenkin: Homegrown and top class

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What We Do In The Shadows, The Last Saint and Housebound.
What We Do In The Shadows, The Last Saint and Housebound.

I'm not sure what's got into the water this year, but it's clearly agreeing with local film-makers, because we're currently enjoying one of the best crop of local films to be released in quite some time - and it's not just us local critics who think so.

Not only are the films doing well at the local box office, but they're winning awards overseas, and being invited to fancy festivals.

Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's What We Do In The Shadows won glowing reviews for international festivals before it even opened in New Zealand and, in the 11 weeks since it kicked off here, it's grossed over $2.5 million at the box office.

The Dark Horse has won nothing but praise and accolades, for its stars (Cliff Curtis and James Rolleston) and creators, and has taken more than $1.5 million locally in the five weeks since it opened.

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They've both been invited to the Toronto Film Festival, which begins this week, along with Toa Fraser's upcoming new film The Dead Lands (also starring Rolleston), while two other local films, Fantail (which screened here last year, but has since been making international waves) and Housebound (which opens today) were both given prestigious People's Choice Awards at the Melbourne Film Festival two weeks ago, along with What We Do In The Shadows.

Another local film opened last week - The Last Saint, winning yet more rave reviews, and confirming my suspicions that we're punching well above our weight in film-making at the moment.

This despite the fact that NZ Film Commission funding for most of these has been minimal. The Dark Horse did get a fair chunk (though the total budget was still a very low $4 million), but the rest have been made on a minuscule shoestring: Housebound and Fantail were given $250,000 each as part of the now-defunct Escalator scheme, and The Last Saint received $35,000 early on, but has since been entirely funded by private investment, and What We Do was almost entirely self-funded also, with just a $250,000 post-production grant from the Film Commission.

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It's all pretty miraculous considering American movie budgets are considered small if they're under $5 million, and shows how our number-eight-wire-Kiwi-ingenuity-streak comes to the fore when we're pressed for cash.

It's remarkable that all these films look and sound as great as they do, and that they compete on an international level.

What's not so great is that these kind of budgets force a lot of people in the industry to work for pay that's below minimum wage, and encourage a culture of favours, or doing it for the love of it. Those aren't bad qualities on occasion, but they're a problem as a pervasive industry standard.

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None of these moviemakers would criticise the Film Commission for the funding they do give out, and I'm not suggesting that greater government funding is the answer either. It's important that the industry isn't totally dependent on handouts, or waiting around for funding to get something started.

But greater private investment would be a wonderful thing, whether it's via crowd-funding platforms (Lee Tamahori's upcoming New Zealand film The Patriarch is taking that route), sympathetic film lovers with deep pockets, or the New Zealand public simply getting out there to watch local films at the cinema, and proving they're worth investing in.

Because I'd like to see this grand tradition of excellent local film-making continue, and for the wonderful creative people working to make a reasonable living, please don't pirate them, or assume that Guardians of the Galaxy will be better.

Go out to see Housebound or The Dark Horse or The Last Saint or WWDITS at a theatre this week. They're all excellent and you won't regret it.

- TimeOut

Lydia Jenkin

Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Childhood music lessons eventually led to degrees in music and media studies for Lydia Jenkin, launching her career as an entertainment writer. A love of late nights watching local musos - whether in dingy bars or at summer music festivals – saw her become assistant editor at NZ Musician magazine for nearly five years before she jumped at the chance to join the TimeOut team. She's at her happiest when ranting about her latest music discovery, but is equally keen on excellent film and television (The Dark Horse and True Detective are her picks so far for 2014).

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