Te Tuma Whakaata Taonga New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) Chair, Dame Kerry Prendergast, has announced that CEO Annabelle Sheehan would step away from the role, after three years leading the agency, and return to Australia.
Making the announcement after the March Board meeting, Prendergast said the Board was saddened by her resignation and the reasons for it. Sheehan has been undergoing treatment for breast cancer over the past six months and has decided to return home and complete her treatment there, and focus on her family. She will make a full recovery.
Throughout this period, Prendergast said Sheehan has continued to lead the development and implementation of new programmes and initiatives, including the New Zealand Government’s COVID-19 recovery funds.
Early on in her tenure, Sheehan committed to diversity, inclusion, and gender equality. In April 2018, she launched the 125 Fund to increase the number of women filmmakers gaining access to production funds to tell their stories. Two of these films, Poppy and The Justice of Bunny King are completed, with the third Going, Going currently in production. That same year, Sheehan launched Te Rautaki Māori and announced new funding programmes to ensure Māori filmmakers have access to financing and developing their stories and careers. She also created the new role of Pou Whakahaere to lead on implementing Te Rautaki and strengthen partnerships with the Māori screen industry. The $2.5M He Pounamu Te Reo Māori feature film initiative to produce narrative feature films in Te Reo Māori was launched in 2018.
In 2019, the NZFC and NZ On Air partnered on series drama initiative Raupapa Whakaari Drama to the World, a fund to support the development of distinctive, high-end scripted series that will appeal to the international market as well as New Zealand audiences. Senior executives, producers, show-runners and writers of internationally acclaimed shows participated in a week long workshop with ten writer/producer teams.
That same year, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened the Power of Inclusion, a major two-day global summit hosted by the NZFC with support from The Walt Disney Studios, and attended by over 700 people.
More recently, Sheehan facilitated the Black List New Zealand Project, to foster the creative relationship between writers and producers and stimulate international opportunities for New Zealand feature films; and was a lead collaborator with fellow funding agencies NZ On Air and Te Māngai Pāho on the implementation of Te Puna Kairangi Premium Production Fund and Ara ki Te Puna Kairangi the Premium Development Fund.
Despite the disruption to the film industry from COVID-19, production levels remained high, with international productions currently located in New Zealand between 1 July 2020 and 20 June 2021 estimated to trigger a spend of NZ$730 million on New Zealand goods and services. Local production is strong with 10 local films and series in production around the country with a further five in post-production. Since New Zealand cinemas fully re-opened in August 2020, ten New Zealand films have released in cinemas, including This Town, Baby Done, Savage, Shadow in the Cloud, Dawn Raid and Cousins.
Prendergast said Sheehan’s last day in the office would be May 21, 2021 and the search for a new CEO would start immediately.