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This is not a commercial movie, commission says

By Nick Smith

Friday 23rd August 2002

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The New Zealand Film Commission is refusing to fund an award-winning movie, gainsaying US experts who say This Is Not A Love Story has excellent commercial prospects (NBR, Aug 9).

American movie bible Variety hailed Love Story after it won best screenplay at the Dances with Film festival in Los Angeles, saying it had "fine commercial prospects beyond the Oz-Kiwi zone."

Presently in rough-cut form, it has been languishing for lack of finishing funding to the disgust of Love Story producer Andrew Calder.

Yet Love Story has just been selected to screen in the last week of October at the Milan International Film Festival in Italy, he said.

He is turning his back on the commission, which has had a controversial history of backing loss-making production companies such as Kahukura, to seek finishing funding elsewhere.

He accused the commission of underfunding film projects and staff of interfering in board decisions.

"I think the NZ Film Commission needs more public money and fewer public servants," Mr Calder said. "All film practitioners need more personal support and less personal control from NZFC staff.

"No one has a right to commission funding but they have a right to be treated fairly and consistently."

He said three years of battles with the commission producing both Love Story and Tongan Ninja ­ initially rejected by the commission but later attracting funding after it sold to Showtime in Australia ­ showed the publicly funded body was neither fair nor consistent.

Despite Variety magazine's praise of the film, commission chief executive Ruth Harley said, "the board felt the film would be unable to recoup the post-production funding through either domestic or international markets.

"The critical response [praising the film] would not sufficiently counter-balance the required spend [and] furthermore This Is Not A Love Story did not meet the market test of an international pre-sale," she said in a letter to Mr Calder.

Ms Harley told The National Business Review she agreed film production needed more funding but said the commission's rejection of Love Story was not personal.

If, for instance, Mr Calder acquired a distribution deal or sold the film, the commission would have another look at finishing funding, she said.

Yesterday Mr Calder received confirmation the film had been selected to screen at the Milan film festival.

But Mr Calder said art films relied on critical praise at film festivals to garner sales, unlike Tongan Ninja, which could be pre-sold because of its niche subject matter.

He said he was going public with his complaints about the commission because it was harming the industry through underfunding and not allowing movie makers any profit margin.

"I'm trying to be constructive and I want other people to think that they could [speak out about the commission] too," he said.

"It's also quite true to state that I have found some of [the commission's] individual attitudes and performances at various times to be both heartbreaking and often emotionally draining experiences.

"All I personally want to do right now is concentrate on finishing This Is Not A Love Story with appropriate financial assistance."

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