Ferrer-Roca, Natàlia (2020):
"Art against the Odds: The Struggles, Survival and Success of New Zealand Local Cinema." The Political Economy of Local Cinema: A Critical Introduction. Eds. Rajala, Anne; Lindblom, Daniel; Stocchetti, Matteo. Berlin: Peter Lang. 175-203
Article in Anthology

New Zealand is well-known as being able to produce some of the most successful high-budget Hollywood ‘blockbuster’ productions, such as "The Lord of the Rings" or "The Hobbit," despite its comparatively small population and remote location. However, little is known about its own bottom-tier films, their funding problems and sustainability challenges. Bottom-tier films, those productions that are made with small-budgets and the domestic audience foremost in mind – which are also known as ‘local cinema‘ – generally face significant economic challenges when confronted with a small domestic media market. This paper provides a critical analysis to fill this knowledge gap by applying a political economy of communication perspective and drawing on findings derived from review of academic literature and secondary data, policy analysis, archival research and expert interviews with key personnel in industry and state agencies. Precisely, it builds on Dunleavy & Joyce (2011), Lealand (2013) and Ferrer-Roca (2015). In the first part, the paper will provide a value chain analysis – development, budget and institutional objectives, production, domestic distribution (including piracy) and international distribution – of three New Zealand bottom-tier productions that have achieved unusual success, in critical and/or commercial terms. These three case studies are used to examine the distinguishing factors of bottom-tier films will be Sione’s Wedding (2006), Boy (2010) and The Orator (2011). The second part will offer a comparative analysis of the three bottom-tier case studies previously presented. The value chain structure will allow to provide a thorough examination of the current problems concerning the funding and sustainability of New Zealand local cinema, as well as how digitalization and globalization (i.e., piracy) is directly affecting the financial sustainability of bottom-tier productions. Based on the New Zealand case, the paper concludes with a set of recommendations regarding policy and institutional arrangement from an analytical approach of critical political economy, which might be useful for other small countries with lack of economies of scale aiming at strengthening their local cinema.