John Barnett to receive honorary doctorate

The New Zealander who brought critically acclaimed films such as Whale Rider to the big screen is to be honoured by Victoria University.

John Barnett, chief executive of South Pacific Pictures since 1993 and co-owner of the production company since 1998, is to receive an honorary Doctor of Commerce degree at the University’s May Graduation ceremonies.

Mr Barnett has been involved in the film and television industry as an independent producer since the mid-1970s and in the last 30 years has produced a host of television dramas, documentaries and feature films.

His output has ranged from comedies such as Sione’s Wedding and Middle Age Spread and the animated hit, Footrot Flats, to dramas such as Beyond Reasonable Doubt, based on David Yallop’s controversial book that led to the Royal Commission of Inquiry that acquitted Arthur Allan Thomas of the Crewe murders, and New Zealand’s longest-running soap opera, Shortland Street.

He produced the international award-winning film, Whale Rider, adapted from the book of the same name by Victoria alumnus and fellow honorary doctorate recipient, Witi Ihimaera. In 2003, Whale Rider won a host of national and international awards including nine New Zealand Film & Television Awards and the audience awards at the Sundance Film Festival and San Francisco International Film Festival and British Academy of Film & Television Arts Children’s Award for Best Feature Film. The following year, actress Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress (2004) for her role in the movie.

Mr Barnett has been heavily involved in promoting the film and television industry in New Zealand, including founding the local industry magazine, OnFilm, chairing the Independent Producers’ & Directors’ Guild (1984-88) and serving two terms on the New Zealand Film Commission (1989-1991 and 1998-2002), the Screen Production Industry Taskforce (2002-2005) and the New Zealand Screen Council (2005-).

He has also looked to the industry’s future needs and given exceptional support to Victoria University’s International Institute of Modern Letters, leading the fundraising for the Michael Hirschfeld Directorship of Scriptwriting, currently held by Ken Duncum. The establishment of this position led to the decision to establish the scriptwriting stream in the University’s MA in Creative Writing.

In November 2002, he was made the Screen Producers’ & Directors’ Association of New Zealand Industry Champion of the Year for his contribution to the New Zealand film and television industry and the following year was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Vice-Chancellor, Professor Pat Walsh, said Mr Barnett had played a key role in the establishment of New Zealand’s growing film and television industry and its growing international reputation.

“John is one of those rare individuals whose talents sit astride the often disparate disciplines of business and the creative arts. Not only have his productions employed countless New Zealand actors, producers, directors, technicians and writers, but through his ability to think creatively, he also given this country many windows to examine its society and cultures.

“He has been producer or executive producer on three of the five top grossing New Zealand films at the New Zealand Box Office and has played a strong leadership role in the local film industry. The support he brought to efforts to establish the Directorship in Scriptwriting at Victoria was exceptional.”

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Co-founder of Throng. Favourite TV shows recently: Homeland and The Newsroom.
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