New Zealanders Find Life In The Art-House Circuit

The value potential of niche theatrical distribution in the small but sophisticated New Zealand market has heightened Kiwi interest in this year’s AFM.

At least four buyers are attending and most say they have more money to spend than last year. Viewed collectively, they will seek a broad range of material – for television and video, as well as cinemas. But a new emphasis, clearly, is on distinctively art house circuit material.

Kelly Rogers, who with partner Matthew Stevens runs the Auckland art house cinema, The Bridgeway, says there is “a wealth of opportunity” in distribution in New Zealand if films are handled correctly and “treated with the respect they deserve.”

The Bridgeway team, acting as sub-distributor for Palace Films in Australia, released the Gerard Depardieu movie “Trop Belle Pour Toi” on four screens in three cities just prior to the new year.

It had grossed $NZ140,000 in four weeks and should reach the Bridgeway target of $200,000 at season’s end.

The Bertrand Blier pic is Rogers’ first stab at distribbing outside of Auckland. His reputation as an enterprising promoter of product at his own cinema was earned by solid runs of such varied fare as Alan Parker’s “Angel Heart,” Istvan Szabo’s “Colonel Redl” and Ettore Scola’s “The Family.” He profited from the first run of “Sex, Lies And Videotape” in Auckland which played for nine months at The Bridgeway and grossed $200,000.

Rogers estimates that the N.Z. market is worth about 20% of Australian business which makes it not insignificant in a global sense. At AFM he will be looking for “left of center” films that the majors don’t touch.

Broader horizons

“We have a particular interest in French upmarket films but not exclusively so,” he says. “We are not put off by subtitles.” He hopes to build distribution to around 20 to 30 titles a year over the next three years.

Another new distrib entrant is John Maynard, a notable producer in New Zealand and Australia (Jane Campion’s “Sweetie,” Vincent Ward’s “The Navigator,” and “Vigil”). He is now in partnership with producer Bridget Ikin (Campion’s “An Angel At My Table,” which has grossed over $NZ2 million in both countries in its first four months. He says a concerted move into distribution will place him in a better position to “present the films I produce to the world.”

Maynard distribbed the Campion and Ward pics in New Zealand, and at AFM will be seeking “quality product – like the kind we make” for both the New Zealand and Australian markets.

Other buyers are John Barnett, principal of Endeavour Entertainment Ltd., and Tony Watts, head of feature film acquisitions for Television New Zealand.

‘More money to play around with’

Barnett says he has “more money to play around with” than in previous years. He is not looking to invest but will be seeking all rights to new product with a particular emphasis on “specific sell-through” tapes. He will also be talking-about feature and tv projects that are on his company’s production schedule.

Watts, who is representing TVNZ and the Pay TV web, Sky Movies (New Zealand), is seeking all rights to new product with a particular emphasis on family and children’s material. Ideally, he hopes to pick up 40 to 50 titles – a much greater quantity than in 1990.

“We didn’t buy much at AFM last year,” he says. Watts has attended all AFMs, previously as director of programs for Premiere (U.K.) and Sky Movies (U.K.) Pay TV Satellite Services.

A further possible buyer is Sue Thompson, of Wellington-based Trans Tas, who is distributing “Ruby And Rata” in N.Z. She also programs the refurbished Paramount in Wellington which is doubling as a cinema and legit venue.

The N.Z. Film Commission, an official AFM member, is selling two new features at the market – “Ruby And Rata,” and John Day’s “The Returning.”

Per Lindsay Shelton, marketing director, commish has an informal working agreement whereby indie producers, seeking to discuss future projects, can work out of the NZFC office. The lineup is expected to include: Robin Laing, Gaylene Preston, Dorothee Pinfold, Bridget Ikin and, possibly, Trishia Downie.

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