NSI’s Joy Loewen on the Power of Inclusion conference in New Zealand

Guests are welcomed onto the marae with a haka during the Power of Inclusion conference in New Zealand | Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images for New Zealand Film Commission

(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images for New Zealand Film Commission)

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Auckland, New Zealand (Aotearoa) to attend the Power of Inclusion conference – a global summit where over 60 international and local (NZ) voices shared their stories, experiences and expertise to generate momentum for a future where representation and inclusion are the new screen industry standards.

The trip and conference were memorable life experiences.

When I got back, NSI’s website editor Liz Hover had a lot of questions for me and I’m pleased to share my reflections and the impact of the experience below.

• • •

What was the goal of the trip?

There were multiple goals. I wanted to increase exposure for the National Screen Institute and our training programs; meet potential program partners and simply be part of the global conversation on the subject of inclusion.

Why did you travel to New Zealand?

Telefilm and New Zealand Film Commission extended an invite for NSI to attend. We recognized this was a timely opportunity to elevate the NSI brand on a global level and pursue the goals above. It also helped to have Telefilm approve our travel grant request, providing the necessary funds to attend the event. I live by the motto ‘show up’ and, in this case, we had the resources and support in place to do just that.

Have you been to New Zealand before? How did you feel after such a long flight?

Yes! My husband John and I travelled to New Zealand in May 1999. We were footloose and fancy free; no kids. We kicked around the north island for two weeks and at the end promised we’d come back again – for longer. In early 2000 I got pregnant with our oldest child and never returned, until now.

I arrived in Auckland just after 4 a.m. after a 14-hour direct flight from Houston, Texas. The Air New Zealand flight crew were so proud for getting us there ahead of the scheduled 5 a.m. arrival.

It was a long but smooth and relaxing flight. I arrived safely with bright eyes and an open heart to fully engage in the opportunities ahead. Being so far from home, on a totally different time schedule, I fully leaned into the conference, the different environment and meeting fellow delegates.

What was the conference for (its aim/goals)?

I’d say it was two-fold: one, to gather media industry professionals from around the world to engage in a global conversation on the topic of representation and inclusion in the screen industry; and secondly, brainstorm an action plan on how to effect change for a more inclusive industry and world.

I have long believed New Zealand to be a forward thinking county in many of their policies and political practices. In her opening keynote, The Rt Honourable Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated her hopes “… for a future where representation and inclusion are not merely buzz words but are the industry standard.” Bold and lofty goals for sure, but the reality was achieved with over 60 speakers / panelists and 700 delegates in attendance.

What was the atmosphere like?

Warm (despite the chilly, spring-time temperatures) and welcoming (see Kate Rodger’s Newshub report).

The warmth came through at the traditional ceremony to welcome guests to Aotearoa. I won the battle over jet lag by attending a pōwhiri by Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei on their marae (meeting grounds) overlooking the Waitematā Harbour. (The marae has been an integral part of the Ngāti Whātua ki Ōrākei tribe since the 17th century, which was reclaimed from the Crown through occupation, protest, activism and Treaty settlement, to enable their people’s aspirations.)

New Zealand Film Commission staff and representatives guided our group of international guests through the ceremony and the hongi (the traditional Māori greeting in which two people press noses and forehead together). I didn’t understand the words spoken but in the eyes and voices of those around me, I understood and felt welcomed in this place.

Hongi traditional Māori greeting at the Power of Inclusion conference in New-Zealand | Photo by Michael Bradley

(Photo by Michael Bradley)

Overall, Auckland felt very similar to Vancouver so it was somewhat familiar. That kind of familiarity of place immediately put me at ease and brought comfort in a place so far from home.

The conference delegates were all easily accessible, friendly and open. I pinched myself while having one-on-one conversations with celebrities like Lucy Lawless, Niki Caro and Magda Szubanski.

You were part of a panel discussion at the conference. What was that about?

I was invited to be on the Representation, Not Diversity panel along with screen agency executives from the US, New Zealand and Australia.

I was humbled and honoured to share the stage with Annabelle Sheehan, Graeme Mason and Madeline Di Nonno in a conversation led by Dr. Shuchi Kothari about successes and challenges in policies aimed at broadening representation on and behind the screen.

The panel was an excellent opportunity to fulfill one of my conference goals and highlight the training NSI has provided for regional, female, diverse and Indigenous content creators in our 33-year history.

I strongly believe that providing under-represented storytellers with access to professional development training, mentorship and industry leaders is one of the key solutions to ensuring there are qualified, skilled and confident voices to better represent and reflect the world in which we live.

Who did you meet and what did you talk about?

With only two official event days, my schedule was jam-packed with formal and informal meetings.

I had formal meetings with New Zealand and Australian filmmakers, festival organizers, agency executives and a handful of US media execs. My informal – yet equally productive meetings – were with similar groups of people but the backdrop was a bit more picturesque and relaxed.

Highlights would be dinner with a new group of friends from Screen Auckland and ABC’s Good Morning America at the Sugar Club, and an afternoon with a group of superstar women from WIFT-International at Waiheke Island (thanks to host Patricia for organizing).

Did you feel a connection with anyone in particular?

It’s not unusual for me to meet and make a new bestie when going to events like this. I do so with a bit of reluctance because life is full and chances are its going to be a while before we meet in person again. However, I couldn’t hold back. I enjoyed the company of several new friends this trip and, in particular, would highlight Jasmine Millet (from Screen Auckland) and her son, Sebastien. Jasmine went the distance as both an unofficial tour guide and friend.

And then there’s that Winnipeg thing. Manitobans are everywhere. True to form, one of the first New Zealand filmmakers I had the pleasure of meeting was acclaimed director, Leanne Pooley.

Leanne, it turns out, grew up blocks away from where I currently live in Winnipeg and one of her friends growing up is a person I do volunteer work with and have enormous respect for. By virtue of association (and our River Heights connection), I knew Leanne was good people and deeply appreciate the immediate gift of an afternoon at the beach and an easy friendship we developed in just a few short days.

What have you gained from your visit?

A potent combination of knowledge, courage and connections.

Thanks to the statistical info shared by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Geena Davis, Madeline Di Nonno and Amber-Sekowan Daniels, I have more knowledge and a better understanding of the current imbalance of on-screen representation and diversity.

I also have more fuel in my ‘courage’ tank to confront the challenges and improve the stats by ensuring we are providing training opportunities to shore up the field of under-represented voices on screen.

Equally important, my network has been strengthened with the power of connections to a worldwide community of incredible human beings with open hearts and willing hands to work towards the goal of developing storytellers who will broadly reflect the lives of all of us through the stories they make and share.

The power of inclusion is the power of connection. That would be the most impressionable note tucked into my memory bank which I will take into my daily work.

How did you feel about leaving and heading home to Canada?

A right proper mix of emotions but overall I feel more purpose-filled, optimistic and driven.

I draw strength from The Rt. Hon Jacinda Ardern’s statement that “Even imperfect action is good … It’s better to stumble forward than stand still.”

So I vow to stumble forward appreciating there may be some imperfect action.

By putting my fear and reluctance in the back seat, I leave room beside me in the front seat for hope and opportunity to devote to the development of Canadian storytellers in all our glorious diversity.

Our stories connect us. By sharing our stories we will create a media landscape that reflects our cultural experiences and provides a more inclusive perspective that brings cohesion, understanding and, ultimately, peace.

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