New Zealand On Air scuttles film financing

AUCKLAND, N.Z. — Perennially scarce funding for New Zealand feature films will be even harder to find following the decision of New Zealand On Air to pull the plug on its share.

The organization distributes a little over $40 million annually, the proceeds of a compulsory license fee payable by any household with a television receiver. About half of that amount is spent developing local television programs. Since it was established in 1989, NZOA has been a small, but significant, contributor to feature filmmaking as well.

A dozen features

It has contributed about $1.6 million to the budgets of a dozen features in that time, including about 10% of the budget for the international hit “Once Were Warriors.”

The chief executive of the local producers and directors guild, Jo Tyndall, says the NZOA share was often “that elusive last few percent,” which meant the difference between a green and red light.

But in a decision that has frustrated many in the film industry, NZOA chief executive Chris Prowse said last week that public radio’s demands on the organization’s funding left no money for feature films.

NZOA has put $400,000 into two films this year — the “Warriors” sequel “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” which remains mired in a dispute over rights but is expected to start production soon, and “Bow Down Shadrach,” a film by veteran director Ian Mune.

The last of the funding

But those pics will be the last to receive NZOA funding outside of the Screen VisioNZ initiative, that was set up two years ago to provide capital for two low-budget films a year for five years.

ScreenvisioNZ, whose first project “Via Satellite” reaches screens at local film festivals this month, is a partnership with the Film Commission, state broadcaster Television New Zealand and British-based company Portman Entertainment Group.

Film Commission chief executive Ruth Harley called NZ On Air’s decision “arbitrary, unwise and culturally regrettable.” Harley was the founding chief exec of NZOA and originally set up the feature film funding arrangement.

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