Issue date: 
Thursday, 4 March 2021

With its diverse landscape and being home to a talented group of filmmakers and storytellers, Rotorua is today celebrating its role as the lead location in Kiwi film Cousins. The film releases in nationwide cinemas today, following the world premiere in Rotorua last night. It will then open in Auckland when the alert level changes.

Waru directors Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith helm this time-transcending Māori drama based on Patricia Grace's novel about three cousins, separated by circumstance, and their long journey to find each other. Shot over six weeks in Rotorua and Wellington, Cousins has been described by reviewers as ‘a deeply moving dramatic triumph’ (
With the local screen industry estimated to have spent $2m in the region in 2020 and expecting to grow to $4m in 2021, Rotorua is fast cementing itself as a welcome home for film projects in Aotearoa. The region has featured as a key location in a number of films and television series including  Pete’s Dragon, Yogi Bear, Without a Paddle and the upcoming Vegas TV series. With Rotorua Economic Development (RED) investing in the local film sector in Rotorua, it looks to grow its presence in the district and capitalise on the strength of indigenous storytelling here in Rotorua.
Andrew Wilson, Interim CEO Rotorua Economic Development, says, “We’re extremely proud that Rotorua was chosen as the main location for the filming of this world-class production and that our local talent also played a significant part in making this stunning film come to life.”
Cousins provided our local talent with the privilege to be a part of a legacy production that began with pioneering Māori filmmaker Merata Mita’s dream of turning Patricia Grace’s book Cousins into a movie.”
“Supporting last night’s local world premiere held here in Rotorua was an honour and we look forward to continuing to support this evolving industry and further develop our local talent and infrastructure.”
Rotorua Economic Development’s support of the local industry has also included sponsorship of the Rotorua Indigenous Film Festival and support for Waiariki Film Studio’s development of a studio in Rotorua. Waiariki Film Studio’s White St studio is a 1,000m2 stage space with additional workshop and office spaces which can service small to medium New Zealand projects such as the recent TV series Vegas. With PGF funding confirmed for the stage 2 development of a larger sound stage, the Waiariki Studio team are looking to establish Rotorua as an indigenous film hub.
Co-director for Cousins, Ainsley Gardiner, comments, “Shooting Cousins in the Rotorua region gave us the opportunity to work with local Māori, both in front of and behind the camera, creating a huge amount of inspiration and excitement for young Māori in the film industry. It also fulfilled a long-term goal of mine to work in one of my tribal areas.”
Gardiner continues: “Beyond that, the more films that are shot in the Rotorua district, the greater its capacity will be. Rotorua will become known not only not only for its beautiful scenery and welcoming, talented people – it will also have the capacity to service large budget international films.” 
The New Zealand Film Commission is proud to have played a part in this significant local production providing both financial and creative support through the NZFCs own investment programme and the Government’s NZ Screen Production Grant.
“I am so proud of directors Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith. Cousins is a beautiful film. It fulfils our goal of investing in talented New Zealand filmmakers to tell significant local and indigenous stories,” said Annabelle Sheehan, CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission. “Cousins has also played a significant role in helping grow the screen industry in the Rotorua region whilst also providing a boost to the local economy.”  
Kiwi audiences can see Rotorua on screen in Cousins when it opens in cinemas today (outside of Auckland) and in Auckland when alert levels shift to level 2.
Cousins is produced by Georgina Conder (She Shears, The Breaker Upperers), Libby Hakaraia (The Gravedigger of Kapu) and Ainsley Gardiner under Miss Conception Films and Whenua Films. With investment from The New Zealand Film Commission, and with the assistance of the New Zealand Government’s Screen Production Grant and the Screen Production Recovery Fund. Cousins is distributed in New Zealand by Vendetta Films.


Last updated: 
Thursday, 4 March 2021