Marten Rabarts has stepped down as director of the New Zealand International Film Festival (NZIFF), and is moving on to take up a key role in a new film and arts project in Europe.

Rabarts’ decision to leave the role was taken some months ago but he deferred it until he had delivered the current edition of the festival, which is ongoing.

Festival chair Catherine Fitzgerald said that Rabarts was appointed with a vision to bring new and exciting developments to the festival, however with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, these became impossible and just the delivery of the festivals was a challenge. The 2020 edition of the festival was hybrid, while the current edition is in-person, with the Auckland and Hamilton legs having to be canceled due to pandemic restrictions.

During his tenure at NZIFF, Rabarts executed a number of initiatives to boost its international visibility including, making it part of the Cannes market’s “Fantastic 7,” program, which fosters emerging talents and connects them with potential business partners by creating a space for dialogue and exchange supported by top international film festivals.

Rabarts also drove the rebranding of the festival to Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival, reflecting the cultural diversity of contemporary Aotearoa and increased the engagement of Māori and Pasifika filmmakers in the festival.

Rabarts was appointed director in 2019 following the retirement of long-time director Bill Gosden due to ill health. Previously, he was head of EYE International at the EYE Film Museum Netherlands, and past jobs have included artistic director of the Binger FilmLab, and head of training and development at the NFDC in India.

While a replacement for Rabarts has not been named yet, the senior team, including head of programming Michael McDonnell, Paris-based senior programmer Sandra Reid and general manager Sally Woodfield, remains in place.

Fitzgerald said: “We thank Marten for his energy, drive and tenacity which ensured that in 2020 we were able to deliver a hybrid festival for audiences, and that this year, despite having to cancel the Auckland and Hamilton legs, we have been able to present a festival — with an outstanding program — in 11 centres around the country under Alert Level 2 restrictions.”

“It has been a very challenging time and we acknowledge that this hasn’t been conducive to fulfilling the vision of a more international and industry-engaged festival that Marten brought to NZIFF. We’re very sorry to lose him but respect and understand his decision,” Fitzgerald added.

Rabarts said: “It’s been a wild ride taking on the role of festival director just as the pandemic descended. Relocating from Europe as a new director with a skillset and reputation for evolution, growth and change; this had to be set aside for NZIFF just to survive. Having steered the festival through what we hope is the worst of the storm, it’s time for a director who will consolidate and future-proof the festival.”

“I’d like to acknowledge the incredible team at NZIFF who have worked under extraordinary circumstances to present two festivals under the ever-changing conditions of a global pandemic,” Rabarts added. “I’ll remain a vocal advocate and ambassador for this fantastic festival and the filmmakers and devoted audiences it serves so well.”