Sir James Wallace is a longtime patron to the arts. En route he has funded or help fund a succession of short films and features, from pioneering gay dramas (Squeeze, A Death in the Family) to box office champion Hunt for the Wilderpeople and the offbeat Love Story.
Wallace is Chairman and Managing Director of The Wallace Corporation and Chairman of The Wallace Group. Both companies have wide interests in agribusiness. He has provided funding to a long series of films through The Wallace Arts Trust, and Wallace Productions.
His ealy interest in filmmaking was encouraged by seeing a wide range of films including Gone with the Wind and the work of Alfred Hitchcock. Later he spent six years working for film exhibitor Kerridge Odeon (including time as Company Solicitor). He was able to see almost every new film being released in New Zealand.
One of Wallace's earliest producing credits was on Richard Turner's pioneering gay drama Squeeze (1980). Uncredited for his role on the film at the time, Wallace helped keep the production going through an extended shoot. His earliest official producing credit was on Stewart Main's documentary Race Against Time (1983),which explores racism towards Māori and Pacific Islanders.
Main and Wallace would work together again on short A Death in the Family (1986), which won awards at a number of international festivals. Wallace remembers it as "an incredibly personal film for many involved, who had seen friends dying from what was still the mysterious epidemic called AIDS. It was one of the first films in the world dealing with the subject." He believes that the film helped ease local acceptance of "the gay community and the challenges it faced".
Feature Desperate Remedies remains the most ambitious film Wallace has produced. Made entirely inside a studio — a converted warehouse — the period melodrama was directed by Main and Peter Wells. "One of the singular things about this film," said Wallace at the time, "is that it is not confined by the kind of naturalistic cinema which has been a New Zealand tradition, especially in portraying our colonial past". Desperate Remedies reflected his mantra that films ought to "provoke a response from the audience, and make them see the world in a new light".
Desperate Remedies was invited to screen at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, where it won acclaim. The New York Times praised it as artistically risky and "a glittery triump". NME called it"explosively erotic" and "utterly wonderful".
Other award-winners produced by Wallace include The Mighty Civic, Peter Wells' offbeat documentary about Auckland's "unique and important" Civic Theatre (Special Jury Award at the 1990 Golden Gate San Francisco International Film Festival), 48-minute romance Beyond Gravity (which won a scriptwriting award in France), and short films Planet Man (Best Short Film in the Critics' Week Section of the 1996 Cannes Film Festival) and Accidents (Special Jury Mention in 2000, at short film festival Clermont-Ferrand).
A fresh burst of film activity by Wallace was reflected in the programme of the 2016 New Zealand International Film Festival; six of the local films on show that year benefitted from some form of Wallace financial aid, from Apple Pie to A Flickering Truth and short film The King, which won an Audience Favourite award. Wallace has also contributed substantial funding to Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Breaker Uppers, and to the early development phase of The Last Saint.
Wallace judges the annual Wallace Friends of the Civic Award, for a short film meriting special recognition. Founder of the Wallace Art Awards, he was named a Knight of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2011, for services to the arts. He has built up the country's largest private collection of contemporary New Zealand art.
Profile updated on 6 June 2018
Michele Hewitson, 'James Wallace Interview' - The NZ Herald, 20 August 2011
Desperate Remedies press kit