Meet the film industry leader bringing greater diversity to the big screen
Annabelle Sheehan’s diverse career has seen her work across all areas of the film industry. Now, as the head of New Zealand Film Commission, she’s determined to increase gender diversity and share more Māori stories with a wider audience.
Bachelor of Communication (Film Production and Film Studies), 1981
CEO, New Zealand Film Commission
A film buff from an early age, Annabelle Sheehan was raised on whatever gems free-to-air TV had to offer in the 1970s — mostly relics from Hollywood’s golden age, featuring the likes of Fred Astaire, Cary Grant and Shirley Temple.
“I used to say a misspent youth is the best way you can prepare for a film career,” she laughs.
After graduating from UTS, Sheehan went into post-production, working on films such as Mad Max 2, Dead Calm and The Piano.
Next, she took up academic roles, serving as a department head at the Australian Film Television and Radio School.
Then she reinvented herself once more, this time as a talent agent, representing Cate Blanchett and Ben Mendelsohn as CEO of RGM Artist Group.
“My interest in film was never just about making films, but in thinking about them,” she says of her diverse career.
“UTS taught me to look at the industry from a big, broad perspective. It was strong on analysing social structures, feminism and communications theory — things I still think about today.”
As a leader, I’ve noticed that women have a very narrow band of acceptable behaviour; to influence and impact, while maintaining respect, we have to tread carefully.
In 2018, after serving as CEO of the South Australian Film Corporation, Sheehan took on her current role: CEO of the New Zealand Film Commission.
Over the next year, she’s determined to boost gender equality and get more Māori stories on the big screen. Sheehan is known for her pragmatism — a product, she says, of a decade in the fast-paced world of a talent agency.
“I’m interested in processes – that goes back to my communications degree. But we also have to ensure things happen,” she says.
“We have to spend money, encourage filmmakers, and partner with the people for whom it really matters.”
Annabelle Sheehan is the recipient of the 2019 UTS Alumni Award for Excellence in Arts and Social Science.
ROLE MODELS: “People I worked with in the ’80s and ’90s, including directors George Miller and Jane Campion, producers Doug Mitchell and Jan Chapman, and editor Lee Smith.”
SECRET SKILL: “I used to play violin in an all-girl punk band called Friction while I was at UTS.”
Q&A: Annabelle on leading positive change
What’s been a highlight of your career?
“Being a talent agent was fantastic. I worked with some wonderful writers, directors and actors, and when they’re having great success, you feel really privileged to be part of that.”
What’s it like to operate in such a male-dominated field?
“I’ve had some great male mentors, as well as women. But as a leader, I’ve noticed that women have a very narrow band of acceptable behaviour; to influence and impact, while maintaining respect, we have to tread carefully.”
And what have you been watching lately?
“Come to Daddy and Hotel Mumbai — two very different films!”