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Filmmaker wins Fulbright Award for US Masters

Briar March.
One of this year’s Fulbright scholars is also the first New Zealander to be accepted into the Master


Briar March, one of this year’s Fulbright scholars, is also the first New Zealander to be accepted into the Masters of Fine Arts programme at Stanford University in the United States.


March, a 2004 graduate of The University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts has received a Fulbright Graduate Award to help her complete her studies. The artist-turned-photographer-and-filmmaker will begin her MFA in documentary film in September. Widely considered one of the top documentary film programmes in the world, only eight places are available annually to students in this highly competitive programme.

Briar’s best-known claim to fame is possibly her 2004 hour-long film Allie Eagle and Me, described as “one artist’s astonishing journey from lesbian separatism to celibate Christianity, seen through the lens of a young filmmaker”. As director, producer, editor and second camera of the film, Briar says she “found her medium”—one which allowed her to engage socially and politically with a wide audience.

“Making the documentary challenged my own cultural and social perceptions and forced me to develop an active voice on the issues I was exploring. It was then that I knew I had found the perfect medium for my artistic practice, and I made a conscious choice to develop a career as a documentary filmmaker,” says Briar, who has always sought to understand the world by recording and interpreting it.

More recently, Briar has embarked on what is arguably the most challenging film of her young but busy career. There once was an Island is a feature-length documentary about Takuu, a remote atoll in Papua New Guinea currently experiencing the first impacts of climate change. The three-year film project, currently in post-production, saw Briar live for the first two months of 2007 and the last month of 2008 on Takuu, where she lived on a diet of fish and taro, without shops, electricity or reliable telecommunications.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Briar encountered some “difficult situations” on the island. These challenges helped her define what she calls her own “filmmaking ethics”, and to learn more about informed consent when working with indigenous cultures. The experiences also galvanised her commitment to “contribute something back to the people and communities who have participated in my films”: Briar, along with two other members of her production crew, sponsored a woman from Takuu to live in New Zealand and work with her on the film; her company, On the Level Productions, is setting up a trust whereby some of the film's profit will be donated to the Takuu islanders.

As part of her work on Allie Eagle and Me, Briar published educational resources in various formats relating to issues explored in the documentary.

Despite the hefty overseas tuition fees - Briar has already raised NZ$100,000 and still needs to raise an additional NZ$60,000 to complete her degree—the filmmaker is committed to fulfilling her long-held dream of studying at Stanford.

From an industry perspective, Briar believes New Zealand’s funding environment means Kiwi filmmakers often need to look overseas to fund films with international content. She hopes her networking abilities will both strengthen and broaden during her overseas study.

During her time in the United States Briar also hopes to help strengthen the connections between New Zealand and American filmmakers and their communities.

“I believe that participation by our local industries can create limitless benefits and I have already volunteered much of my time to help improve New Zealand’s filmmaking landscape,” says Briar, whose current project is a bi-monthly event called “Doc2doc”, where filmmakers show their works in progress and get feedback from an audience. Briar is already making plans to launch the event in San Francisco and New York.

Equally important, Briar says that as a Fulbright scholar and an ambassador for New Zealand she hopes to share the knowledge and contacts she makes in the US with her peers back home. Eventually, she would like to teach in New Zealand as a way of supporting her filmmaking career.

“My work as a filmmaker has given me immense personal satisfaction; but more importantly I aspire to produce socially-conscious films that move audiences to care and promote positive change, and which support the representation of individuals, groups and issues that are rarely given a voice in the global arena.”

Further information

See more Fulbright Graduate Award recipients at Fulbright New Zealand 

For information on Briar March’s work visit

The University of Auckland’s National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries comprises the School of Architecture and Planning, Elam School of Fine Arts, the Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery (CNZARD), the School of Music and the Dance Studies Programme.

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