NZ Film Commission in contact with They Are Us filmmakers since 2019, but alerted Jacinda Ardern two years later


The OIA document begins with emails sent on May 7, 2019, less than two months after the March 15 shooting in Christchurch.

An email sent from a They are us NZFC producer describes the film’s intention as “to make a drama that honors the lives lost and focuses on the heroism and humanity that so many have shown.”

In March 2020, the NZFC invited film director Andrew Niccol to a ‘cocktail reception’ with the New Zealand Consul General in Los Angeles to connect production, creative and fundraising staff in the United States. with New Zealanders.

Also in March, Annabelle Sheehan, former CEO of NZFC, received the first draft of the script, “strictly for [her] eyes only. ”Producer Tim White told him“ the script is strong, ”but added that it“ will clearly evolve and grow richer as the drafts come. ”

White reassured Sheehan that the film would be approached with sensitivity by the producers.

“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; the end of the general elections; and the trial which is to begin in the middle of the year. We don’t want to rush to make an announcement about the project. “

The NZFC wanted Ardern to read the draft script after the 2020 election, with filming set to begin in late summer 2021, depending on the COVID-19 situation.

Then, on June 9, 2021, Niccol sent another draft of the script to acting NZFC COO Chris Payne, asking him to “keep this between us for now.”

Niccol said he was happy the rest of Payne’s team were reading it, but wanted it to stay in-house.

“For example, I wouldn’t want the prime minister’s office to read it,” he said.

Payne was still thinking about how to approach government, which he had to do under the “no surprises” principle that requires CEOs to keep their ministers informed on important or controversial issues, especially those that may arise in public. .

That same day, he emailed his team asking them to “chat as soon as possible” to “determine [the] best approach to inform ministries / ministers and PMO “.

He then sent a backgrounder on the film to the Prime Minister’s Office, which was the first to be alerted to it in the two years that the NZFC had learned about the film.

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