Less than two months after March 15, the New Zealand Film Commission was in talks with American producers seeking to make films about the Christchurch terrorist attack.
The commission offered its support and stayed in touch – even coordinating and offering advice when the time came to go public with the project.
The producers had hoped to start filming this year.
The film was heavily criticized when it was released in June. A petition to end production has garnered 74,000 signatures – with critics saying it will focus too much on the prime minister rather than the victims and their families.
The commission understood that the film was a “love letter to Jacinda Ardern and the two mosques”. However, when the script leaked this month, families of the mosque attacks said its details were “worse than the terrorist’s livestream.”
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The commission, a state agency that funds and promotes New Zealand cinema, has been very much aware of the project for years, according to e-mails published under the Official Information Act. Its staff and former general manager were in regular communication with the producers of They are us.
They also drank and dined on They are us team, inviting director Andrew Niccol to a “cocktail reception” hosted with the New Zealand Consul General in Los Angeles in March 2020.
Around the same time, the commission’s former executive director, Annabelle Sheehan, received a draft script from They are us. Producer Tim White told him, “The script is strong.”
He also reassured her that the producers would approach the subject with sensitivity.
“I made it clear to them that you / Film Com cannot play a proactive role or be a strong advocate, but you will be able to give advice and maybe also some support regarding New Zealand costs,” he said. he declared.
“It is important to note that everyone is sensitive to the deadlines: the impending anniversary of the event; leading the general election; and the trial which is to begin in the middle of the year.
Sheehan and his team had made arrangements to meet in the United States and at the Cannes Film Festival to discuss further – but Covid got in the way.
A spokesperson for the commission said communication between Sheehan and the producers was “informal” after their introduction in May 2019.
The election also proved difficult for producers and the Film Commission. Chris Payne, a senior executive on the commission, said producers wanted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to read the draft before it was made public. He said they decided to wait to contact her after the election.
However, Ardern’s office did not appear to be involved in the talks until shortly before the U.S. production company announced plans to They are us in June.
Payne also encouraged the company to apply for government funding, but that had not happened in June 2021.
In an email to Niccol from February 2020, he wrote: “Re: your planned terrorist attacks of March 15. If we can help in any way let me know – for example we have an International Co-Development Fund.
The committee was informed They are us producer Ayman Jamal interviewed imams from both mosques. The Canterbury Muslim Association acknowledged that he had spoken to them and then set up a forum for the Muslim community to share their views on the project.
It wasn’t the only film about the attacks on the Christchurch Mosque in the works. The commission was aware of three projects seeking to make films about the attacks.
“None of these three international projects have officially requested any form of screen funding from the New Zealand government,” Jasmin McSweeney, the commission’s marketing manager, previously said. Thing.
“The NZFC is an autonomous Crown entity, which at all times is aware of many local and international film projects at various stages of development,” she said.
They are us went public in June, after a busy day of communication between the NZ Film Commission and its producers in the United States and New Zealand.
Audiences first heard about the project when it was announced that actor Rose Bryne would play Ardern. Bryne declined to comment.
According to published emails, the commission informed the Culture Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office, just one day before the public announcement last month.
Ardern did not support the project. She said the topic “remains very raw” and the story should focus on someone else.
The idea was for a film that left audiences “cheerful and slightly cheerful even in the worst of times,” and encouraged American politicians to tackle gun reform.
They wanted it to be “very precise and truthful” – but the leaked script revealed that the writers hadn’t let the facts get in the way of their story. He described National as being “strongly opposed” to gun reforms and created a new political party to replace ACT.
Jamal and Niccol did not respond to Thingrepeated requests for comments.