The New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) joins the New Zealand film, and wider arts community in sadly acknowledging the passing of Bill Sheat, the organisation’s inaugural Chair.
Bill’s 60-plus year involvement with the arts started at Wellington’s Victoria University where he did a combined arts/law degree and began his long involvement with the university’s drama club and capping reviews. Even after graduating and joining his first law firm, he continued to participate in the capping reviews as well as acting and directing theatre and opera around Wellington.
While he was a specialist in transport law, Bill’s real passion remained with the arts and in particular, the idea that the arts should be a profession that practitioners could make a living from.
This conviction led to his appointment to the drama panel of the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council when it was formed in 1963. He was the Chair of the Council from 1969 – 1972 and remained on the Board until the mid-70’s. In addition, he played a significant role on the managing committee for Wellington’s Downstage Theatre.
A chance meeting with filmmaker John O’Shea introduced Bill to the film industry and he helped finance O’Shea’s 1960s films Runaway and Don’t Let it Get You. At the time New Zealand’s film industry was virtually non-existent and O’Shea and Bill were determined to change that.
From 1973 to 1975 Bill chaired a working party looking at ways to create a local film funding body and was appointed Chair of the Interim Film Commission when it was created in 1977. He kept the Chair role when the New Zealand Film Commission was formally established a year later and remained in the position until 1985.
Working with Sir David Gascoigne, Bill helped draft the legislation for the Film Commission which has remained largely intact in the 40-plus years since it was established. In his time as Chair, Bill saw close to 40 feature films produced including audience favourite and box office hit, Goodbye Pork Pie.
His lifelong passion for the arts and exceptional legal skills helped establish and shape numerous arts organisations including the New Zealand Film Festival Trust (of which he was the founding Chair), the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ Trust. He was also involved in the restoration of Wellington’s Embassy Theatre and State Opera House.
He was recognised for his contribution to New Zealand’s arts sector with an OBE in 1973 and was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2011. In 2019 he received a Wellington Gold Award for his services to the arts.
Bill is survived by his sons, Graeme and Terry and daughter, Cathie. Our thoughts and condolences go out to them.