New Zealand Cinema

Who knew that that little country on the edge of the World had it’s very own film industry?


Of all national cinemas, New Zealand cinema is by far one of the youngest and most under appreciated.

Since its origin, New Zealand Cinema has made around 300 feature films, only 3% of which were made before 1977. New Zealand’s government were less interested in feature film production and more interested in investing in documentary films that would attract a global interest in New Zealand and establish a National Identity. Their aim, was to sell the idea that New Zealand, as it’s been suggested, is a ‘Pastoral Paradise’, highlighting its most famous asset; its landscapes and the ‘safe haven’ that New Zealand offers. However, in 1977, the New Zealand Film Commission was set up to assist in making and promoting New Zealand films. The NZFC helped by providing funding in the production of short and feature length films.

Our ideologies of New Zealand fools us into believing that the entire country is made up of wide, flat, picturesque spaces, that we almost forget people actually live there and that there are urban, build up areas too.


The New Zealand landscape offers us escapism and freedom from the modern world. Though, contemporary New Zealand films have sought to undermine this idea of ‘paradise’ and tranquility and instead, create a darker and more dangerous image of New Zealand through films like ‘Once Were Warriors’ (1994) and ‘Rain’ (2001).



New Zealand films either give us this idea of ‘Pastoral Paradise’ or what is referred to as ‘Kiwi Gothic’, the term given to a cluster of New Zealand films that tend to present dark portrayals of family and the home, and the idea that the landscapes are entrancing yet dangerous, that they are somehow “alive”.

When comparing Once Were Warriors’ and ‘Rain’, their representations of the landscape are quite different. The rural landscapes in ‘Once Were Warriors’ are peaceful, tranquil, and offer us the only respite from the film’s violence. Instead, it is the small, claustrophobic confines of the family home that presents the most danger to the characters. The film gives us a contrast between the Edenic landscapes in rural New Zealand and a picture of urban New Zealand that is dirty, dangerous, poverty-stricken and violent, an image of New Zealand we aren’t used to seeing.

‘Rain’ on the other hand, shows us a dull, gloomy picture of nature that gives us a sense of foreboding, as if something bad is going to happen. Instead of the idyllic gold sandy beaches and blistering sunshine we associate with New Zealand, the beaches in ‘Rain’ are muddy and depressing, it feels cold. The characters are susceptible to the forces of nature that encompass the family and keep them trapped in the small proximity in which the film takes place.

New Zealand cinema is ever growing. An increasing number of films are making their way onto our screens to grace us with the beautiful dangerous ‘paradise’ that is the New Zealand landscape.


See also:

The Cinema of Unease (1995)






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