New Zealand box office sets a record

Day and Date Down Under

The New Zealand box office passed the NZ$200 million number for the first time ever in 2016. The final total for the year was NZ$206 million, bettering the previous record, 2015's NZ$193 million, which represented an excellent 6.8% increase.

Helping that figure was the number-one film of the year, the Kiwi movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which took in over NZ$12 million. Finding Dory came in second with just over NZ$7 million.

Australia also had a record year in 2016, but the box office there was only 2.69% up over 2015. The year-end total box-office cume was A$1,259 million and the top film was Finding Dory at A$48.6 million. Local exhibitors are pretty happy, as the first week of January 2017 featured Australia's biggest-ever weekly box-office total, something that augurs well for 2017. Local films were disappointing in 2016, with the top contender being Mel Gibson's Hacksaw Ridge at A$8.6 million, but already in 2017 Lion has surpassed that total with over A$11 million after only two weeks.

A once-banned book is heading to the screen in New Zealand. In 2015 the New Zealand Censorship Review Board slapped a ban (the first in 22 years) on the book Into the River by Ted Dawe, citing graphic descriptions of sex and drug-taking in the young-adult novel. One major book chain refused to sell the book. The ban was overturned and the president of the Film and Literature Board of Review stepped down. The book deals with a Maori youth who moves from a country town to a boarding school in Auckland and must face issues such as racism, sex, intimacy, drugs and death. Filmmaker Paul Judge has purchased the rights and envisages a film with a budget of NZ$6-10 million.

The New Zealand-Samoan film One Thousand Ropes had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, to be followed by a release in New Zealand and Samoa on March 23. Samoan filmmaker Tusi Tamasese directed the film in New Zealand using Samoan talent. It tells the story of a father reconnecting with his youngest daughter.

The historic Arts Centre in Christchurch was one of the most badly damaged by the earthquakes that hit the city. The cinemas that played there have now permanently closed. But the area is being reborn. A NZ$290 million project is set to reopen much of the precinct in the coming years. Several buildings have already reopened including a live theatre. In the next phase, the School of Art building is being restored and will include two cinemas where none were before. There will be a 50-seat and a 70-seat cinema, with a completion date in 2018. No company has yet signed up to run these cinemas.

Jennifer Kent made an international impact with her debut horror film, The Babadook, a movie that achieved more acclaim and box office outside Australia that here. She has now moved south to Tasmania for her second feature, The Nightingale. The film is set around 1829, after Australia was settled by a large influx of convicts from the U.K. A female Irish convict seeks revenge for the murder of her family and pursues a British soldier through the Tasmanian wilderness, accompanied by an aboriginal male. The film is currently in pre-production, with filming expected this year.

Send your Australia/New Zealand news to David Pearce at