Back in the day, a reviewer’s heart might sink at the prospect of having to review a New Zealand movie. Quite aside from the awkwardness of probably knowing someone involved in its production (the industry being so small and our film-going circle being by extension so incestuous), the Kiwi tendency towards “cultural cringe” meant that often it was the audiences who would baulk at hearing themselves on screen. Sam Neill once famously described our national oeuvre as “the cinema of unease” and critics have indeed had many uneasy moments as the New Zealand Film Commission logo swam across the opening credits.
Well, something’s in the water, because 2014 has proved to be something of a zenith for locally-produced fare. No fewer than 15 Kiwi films found a general release, with several more debuting in the NZ International Film Festival (and hopefully slated for release next year). And boy, were there some smash-hits.
My personal Top 6 include the old folks’ documentary Hip Hop-eration and vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, along with the enchanting Fantail, the bravura P.I. gangster movie The Last Saint, festival horror hit Housebound and the witty and inventive identity theft of Jake.
Further to this, audiences were in ecstasy as Boy’s James Rolleston matured before our very eyes in The Dark Horse and The Dead Lands. True stories were writ large in The Z-Nail Gang and 3 Mile Limit. Never before has the industry been such a hive of self-produced, Number 8 wire filmmaking capability – and never before have viewers felt so confident about spending their hard-earned dollar.
And of course there was the final Hobbit. Whatever one feels about Sir PJ’s treatment of the beloved tale, he can be thanked for pimping New Zealand as a prime location and producer of quality cinema. As a country we should be proud. Keep watching this space.