John Key and his Hobbit sword make the New York Times front page

by Toby Manhire / 25 November, 2012
Prominent spot for report that considers what New Zealand gains - and loses - from the Peter Jackson empire.
The recent article questioning New Zealand’s environmental record in light of the “100% Pure” campaign attracted a load of attention. And that’s fair enough – but it’s worth noting in passing that it did not, as almost everyone reported, appear in the New York Times. It was written for the International Herald Tribune, by NZ Sunday Star-Times journalist Charles Anderson, who is temporarily based in Hong Kong and writing for the Tribune.

It did appear on the New York Times website, which is shared with the IHT (now wholly owned by the NYT), so it’s hardly a catastrophic error, but I mention it by way of noting that the latest appearance of New Zealand on the NY Times site, which again has been getting lots of attention, is indeed from the paper itself.

It further warrants pointing out, because no one else has and it is kind of a big deal, that it appears on the front page of the bumper Saturday paper, the famous “A1”.

The piece sports in its online version a rather fetching picture of the prime minister awkwardly grasping a Lord of the Rings sword, a gift from Barack Obama, like a small child showing off a toy digger delivered by Santa.

In Mr Key’s spare blond-wood office — with no goblins in sight — the sword looked decidedly unmagical. But it served as a reminder that in New Zealand, the business of running a country goes hand in hand with the business of making movies.

For better or worse, Mr Key’s government has taken extreme measures that have linked its fortunes to some of Hollywood’s biggest pictures, making this country of 4.4 million people, slightly more than the city of Los Angeles, a grand experiment in the fusion of film and government.

And unlike some of the international takes on “Hobbit fever” and all that, which have been slavish in their enthusiasm, “for better or worse” is true to the overall tone of the piece, which touches on the actors’ union disputes, the Warner’s deal, and the Kim Dotcom dimension.

An accompanying online article, by the same reporters and again with a “Wellington” dateline, notes that local film-makers are grateful to Peter Jackson. But:

Still, some film people here worry that Mr Jackson’s rise has come at a price. The New Zealand government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Mr Jackson’s mainstream movies and even rewritten labor laws to accommodate his Hollywood partners. What about other homegrown directors, particularly those interested in artier cinema? Is enough being done to make their careers sprout?

And even the prime minister might have preferred a more gushing New York Times account, he can feel relieved at least that this time they got his name right.
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