Top-level work is underway to set up Cook Islands as a hot movie location when Covid travel bans lift.
The Prime Minister’s Office has called a meeting of tourism, culture and film sector leaders, as part of planning to diversify the economy after the shock of the travel shutdown.
It is the culmination of years of work by contemporary arts and culture leaders like Stan Wolfgramm, Henry Ahfoo Taripo and Josh Baker.
Wolfgramm helped broker a memorandum of understanding with the New Zealand Filme Commission in 2013; since then he has been chipping away on relations with overseas production houses and agencies.
This year he has continued talks with the Film Commission, and has had approaches from production companies or location scouts from Scandinavia, and India’s Bollywood industry.
Now, he says a UK-based locations agency, Destinations Rising, has drafted a strategy using Cook Islands as a model for post-Covid filming, in a new tool to match up productions and locations.
“They approached me asking if they could use the Cook Islands as the first model in their new tool, and they’d do it all for free,” Wolfgramm said.
Key to the emerging strategy is a partnership with New Zealand production houses and the New Zealand Film Commission.
Cook Islands has the beautiful, lush tropical locations and a workforce keen to develop film production skills; New Zealand has the skills and technology already.
“We are in the process of exploring further the feasibility of the film industry being an industry that could offer an alternative income in the diversification of the Cook Islands economy,” Wolfgramm said.
“The whole idea we proposed is to leverage off the New Zealand film industry and what they already have. And we’ve said to the New Zealand Film Commission, you’ve got nothing if you don’t have a tropical location in your portfolio.”
Key to the strategy is that film productions take on Cook Islands workers and train them up; also critical is the switch-on of the Manatua undersea fibre cable in the coming month or so.
Anthony Turua, the Secretary of Culture, said last night that they had been party to discussions about the logistics and objectives of this project.
“We are in support of this project through promotion of our cultural creative industry,” he said.
Recent film projects, before the travel shutdown, included the filming of two Anzac Day documentaries on the role Cook Islands soldiers and coast-watchers played in World War I and II.
Wolfgramm worked with several productions before the border closed, including Paradise Soldiers, shot on Rarotonga over summer.
The documentary, about Cook Islands’ soldiers contributions in the wars of the past century, was directed by David Blyth for Magnetic Pcitures, and aired on Anzac Day in New Zealand.
Producer Brian Holland said he would wholeheartedly recommend Cook Islands; it had “outstanding” locations, good resorts which to base his crew, and was easy to get around.
“New Zealand has everything else, mountains and forests,” he said. “But I think Cook Islands’ greatest asset is it’s location – it’s a Realm of New Zealand, but it has that tropical Pacific Island location that New Zealand doesn’t have.
“The one drawback is the weed-eaters and the leaf-blowers! But I’m sure if you’re bringin over a multimillion-dollar production, you can deal with the leaf-blowers.”