Annabelle Sheehan.

New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) CEO Annabelle Sheehan is set to depart her role and return to Australia after three years at the helm of the organisation.

The NZFC announced Sheehan’s resignation today, citing her desire to focus on her family while she completes her treatment for breast cancer, which she has been undergoing for the past six months. She will make a full recovery.

NZFC chair Dame Kerry Prendergast said the board was “saddened” by her resignation and the reasons for it, commending Sheehan for continuing to lead the development and implementation of new programs and initiatives, including the New Zealand Government’s COVID-19 recovery funds.

Sheehan joined the commission in 2018 from the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC), where as CEO, she supported over 30 productions to shoot in the state, while also introducing programs such as the Aboriginal Screen Strategy and Gender Agenda.

Her commitment to diversity, inclusion, and gender equality also shined in her new role across the ditch, as demonstrated by the launch of the 125 Fund in April 2018, designed to increase the number of women filmmakers gaining access to production funds.

Two of these films, Poppy and The Justice of Bunny King are completed, with the third Going, Going currently in production.

In the same year, Sheehan introduced Te Rautaki Māori and announced new funding programs to ensure Māori filmmakers had 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. Further, the NZFC launched the $2.5 million He Pounamu Te Reo Māori feature film initiative to produce narrative feature films in Te Reo Māori.

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 scripted series that involved senior executives, producers, showrunners, and writers of internationally acclaimed shows participated in a week long workshop with ten writer/producer teams.

This was followed soon after by the Power of Inclusion, a major two-day global summit hosted by the NZFC with support from Walt Disney Studios, and attended by over 700 people.

Speaking to IF ahead of the event, Sheehan said there was still “so much work to be done” when it came to making the country’s screen industry more representative.

“For us in New Zealand, it’s really important to find a way to drive that discussion and to bring people into this part of the world,” she said.

More recently, Sheehan facilitated the Black List New Zealand Project to stimulate international opportunities for NZ 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 the Ara ki Te Puna Kairangi 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 July 1, 2020, and June 20 2021 estimated to trigger a spend of NZ$730 million on New Zealand goods and services.

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.

Sheehan’s last day in the office is May 21 and the search for a new CEO starts next week.

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