PNG’s commercial film industry set for rebirth


Papua New Guinea’s commercial film industry is set for a rebirth after decades of resting. The rebirth is led by Minister for Tourism Arts and Culture Boka Kondra.

Mr Kondra’s date with the Papua New Guinea film industry started with a Hollywood film proposal merely weeks after assuming the ministerial portfolio in 2012. In September of that year, he received a funding investment proposal from PNG’s Stanley Nandex for an action film with the working title, THE B-TEAM: PNG. The proposal had been made on behalf of the film’s Los Angeles-based co-producers, Gorilla Pictures.

Although Mr Kondra endorsed the proposal in-principle, it has lingered for the last two years because the policy and legislative framework is not in place.

“When the B Team proposal was brought to my attention at the time, I realized I was staring at an industry that was practically left to die because of a lack of attention”, Mr Kondra lamented.

“I realized too that I was looking at an industry that would not only project our country’s contemporary culture but also generate revenue. So as a lawmaker, I asked myself: what should I do?”

And so two years after receiving the Nandex-Gorilla Pictures proposal, Mr Kondra set about the task to prepare the policy and legislative framework. But why did it take him two years to take action?

“When I took up the ministerial portfolio, the tourism arts and culture sector did not have a plan; not even a plan for film”, Mr Kondra said.

Mr Kondra does not see value in doing things casually so one could say that the reason why the film proposal lingered can be attributed to the need for Mr Kondra to do things properly as part of a plan. That plan came in the form of the Tourism Arts and Culture Sector Plan 2015-2018.

The Tourism Arts and Culture Sector Plan 2015-2018 is the blueprint for tourism arts and culture in Papua New Guinea; including film. It will be brought to the National Executive Council for approval after March 2015 after all stakeholder consultations have concluded.”

Film falls under the plan’s Goal Three under the National Film Festivals and Development programme.

The programme objectives are to: hold PNG film festivals; train film makers on film photography skills; upgrade existing capacity of the National Film Institute (Skul Bilong Wokim Piksa); train screen and scriptwriters for documentary, shorts and feature films; identify appropriate and suitable film locations; network with international film industries, e.g. Republic of Korea, India, USA, New Zealand, and Australia; enter PNG films at international film festivals, e.g. Cannes; and facilitate foreign film shows in PNG.

“I want to credit the Technical Working Group for coming up with the plan. The group comprises heads of the Office of Tourism Arts and Culture; the PNG Tourism Promotion Authority; the National Museum and Art Gallery; and the National Cultural Commission”, Mr Kondra said.

The commercial film industry in Papua New Guinea is a potential economic sector, and the National Government will be creating opportunities for citizens to start-up film production businesses or to expand on existing businesses to employ Papua New Guinea nationals to produce and promote Papua New Guinean film copyright globally through film productions.

The industry has not gone far in terms of developing a robust commercial film industry since the establishment of the National Film Institute as a cultural institution by the National Cultural Commission Act 1994.

“Two of the statutory functions of the National Film Institute are promoting Papua New Guinea abroad through film, and developing towards establishing a commercial film industry. But both functions have not been realized over the past twenty years”, Mr Kondra highlighted.

If not for funding constraints, National Film Institute would be creating employment opportunities for Papua New Guinean film directors, screenwriters, actors, dancers, set designers, directors of photography, music composers, visual artists, costume designers, beauticians, and film editors.

In fact, the National Film Institute in its present state is not keyed to deliver on its statutory functions and this is due largely to the current legislative and policy straitjacket.

According to a 2012 report by the Commonwealth Secretariat entitled, “Institutional and Legal Framework for the Tourism, Arts and Culture Sector in Papua New Guinea”, National Cultural Commission has not had a particular focus on industry, with little emphasis being given to the commercial aspects of the creative arts or cultural industries, or to encouraging their development as a source of income and job creation.

“This kind of mindset has to change”, Mr Kondra said.

“We need to see tourism arts and culture collectively as an economic sector and as a social sector.”

Mr Kondra said that at present the national planning and budgeting framework only recognizes the tourism sector as an economic sector and that this has been the perception for a very long time.

“My thinking is that through a commercial film industry, art and culture or contemporary art and culture can be harnessed as an economic sector. If we export a commercially successful film or television series depicting PNG’s art and culture, we would be uniting a nation to celebrate our success. In addition, our national economy would be the winner because we would be earning film revenue”, Mr Kondra added.

And so with the film strategy set by the Tourism Arts and Culture Sector Plan, Mr Kondra has set about to revive the Nandex-Gorilla Pictures proposal.

“In September this year, I contacted promoters of the B-Team film both here in Port Moresby and in Los Angeles with a view to bringing their film co-production agreement to the State Solicitor for clearance so that I could take a submission to Cabinet for approval”, Mr Kondra said.

“After receiving the agreement from Gorilla Pictures I submitted it to the State Solicitor, who granted legal clearance for me as Minister responsible to go ahead and sign with Gorilla Pictures thereby committing the State to a multi-million kina investment in an action film co-produced by Gorilla Pictures with lead actors Don Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock, Michael Jai White, and Stanley Nandex. There is also the option to involve the actor Dolph Lundgren”, Mr Kondra quipped.

If it is signed, the agreement would allow for the State to enter into a working relationship with Gorilla Pictures to co-produce films for global distribution with the aim of generating revenue, and publicity for the country.

Mr Kondra was doubtful whether the State would stand a chance to see a return on investment.

“I was concerned with the commercial viability of the State’s investment but it seems the agreement requires Gorilla Pictures to screen our films at the American Film Market, and at Cannes Film Festival; both annual events. So I feel confident in saying that the State has an opportunity to increase the marketability of our films and to make profit over the agreement period.”

“To me the B-Team proposal is not only an investment opportunity; it is also a publicity opportunity for tourism. I mean the series of films would be promoting our beautiful flora and fauna, beaches, rainforests, and landforms because films would be shot on location in Papua New Guinea”, Mr Kondra added.

Mr Kondra is ready to take the B-Team proposal to Cabinet. While he is now able to do that, he has another burning issue.

“By entertaining the B-Team proposal, I do not want to ignore our hard-working local film actors, writers and producers whether they are government or independent institutions. I mean I do not want my own people to say that we are not promoting our own people. The B-Team agreement requires Gorilla Pictures to employ our actors and technical staff so there is cross-transfer of skills. But I will introduce new film law and policy to ensure we as a government lead the rebirth of our local film industry from the front”, Mr Kondra explained.

When he went to the Office of State Solicitor, Mr Kondra found out that PNG is not part of an international co-production treaty with the United States or any other State for that matter. Hence, the co-production agreement proposed by Gorilla Pictures is made in the absence of a PNG-United States Co-Production Treaty, adding to the fact that PNG does not have a favourable film law and policy. And so with law reform and the plight of the local film industry on his mind, Mr Kondra has already asked the State Solicitor to go through the current film legislation to see if there is a need for new legislation.
“Why is PNG not seen to be developing towards establishing a commercial film industry? Is it because we do not have a good film policy or law?” Mr Kondra asked.

Currently, staff members from the Ministry of Tourism Arts & Culture are working on instructions for the drafting of film legislation, and a draft policy submission. Mr Kondra needs to take both drafts to the State Solicitor for consideration in order for the State Solicitor to grant a Certificate of Necessity.

Obtaining a Certificate of Necessity is a procedural matter. Before introducing new or amending legislation for film, a written statement or Certificate of Necessity must be obtained from the State Solicitor certifying that legislation is actually necessary to implement the proposals Mr Kondra intends to make for the commercial film industry. Once the State Solicitor grants the Certificate of Necessity, Mr Kondra’s next stop is Cabinet; where he needs to take the policy submission and drafting instructions for approval. Once Cabinet accepts the proposed legislation for drafting, the First Legislative Counsel is then advised to draft the Bill for an Act of Parliament.

“It’s a process I have started, which I hope will address much of what has been raised by commentators in the media. As a Government, we have been called on to address the plight of the local film industry. And part of what I will do is to try to listen to industry stakeholders in PNG, and take onboard the lessons learnt. I also need to compare National Film Institute with its contemporaries in neighbouring countries; New Zealand Film Commission, and Screen Australia for instance. New Zealand and Australia have film bodies, and I hope to engage with Australia and New Zealand to see if there is an opportunity to work together to refine our film legislation and policy. I am also thinking of approaching India, Republic of Korea, and the United States”, Mr Kondra said.

As a member of the O’Neill-Dion Government, Mr Kondra says he is part of a practical and visionary government.

“I am part of a government that is going to create opportunities for citizens to start-up film production businesses and to expand existing businesses. As a government, we can provide a favorable environment with tax relief, technical and financial support, and the establishment of an entrepreneurial incubator scheme and other incentives”, Mr Kondra said.

Mr Kondra says he will support the work of the current film producers so that they can add to the body of work left behind by past film producers and do so without too much fuss. He believes the local film industry deserves better and that this can be done with a new film law and policy; something Mr Kondra is working on at the moment.

Contact: Mr. Oala MOI, Press Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Arts & Culture, Tel (675) 321-1320;
320-0270 | Mobile (675) 712-34237 | Email