New Zealand, the world’s top film destination

Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco - The Philippine Star
New Zealand, the worldâs top film destination

MANILA, Philippines — Until popular actress Anne Curtis married her longtime boyfriend Erwin Heussaff in Queenstown last month, very few Filipinos really knew much about New Zealand. I was there, too, last November to attend a conference for lawyers in Auckland. The Philippine group had the chance to go to Matamata in the North Island, where popular movies like The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed.

It was only during this recent visit that I did my research about the world’s top film destination (according to HBO), and found out that Russell Crowe and Keith Urban (Nicole Kidman’s singer-husband) were not Australians but New Zealanders by birth. Curiosity ignited, I delved deeper into the local entertainment scene and got to learn that this “Land of the Maori,” with its panoramic scenery of lakes, forests, volcanoes and beaches, has been the film location of several popular international movies. Let me tell you about some of these films.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies — I am lumping these films together because they were directed by the same person, Sir Peter Jackson (knighted in 2010 for all his contributions to the arts and cinema), who, together with the owner of the place, set out to make the movie set an attraction for tourists. The permanent and undismantled film setting is toured by hundreds of thousands of visitors. My husband’s favorite part of The Hobbiton Tour was the artificial tree with thousands of expensive, fake leaves imported from Taiwan. The choice place of our lawyer companions was the Green Dragon Inn where the guests could actually drink ale and eat ale pie.

The Chronicles of Narnia — Remember the four siblings who got lost in another world? Well, it turns out that the other world was all in New Zealand! Watching any Narnia movie, you would be mesmerized by the picturesque locations. If you are going on a film tour someday, you should never miss the familiar spot, Cathedral Cove (a short drive east of Auckland). Flock Hill Station, in the Canterbury region in the South Island of New Zealand, was the setting for that unforgettable last fight engaged in by the White Witch, Cate Blanchet.

The Piano — I was a young lawyer when I watched Jane Campion’s award-winning film about a mute wife who loved her piano with a passion. Her uncaring husband sold her piano to another man and to get back the piano (and maybe also to get back at her unfeeling husband), she made a secret deal with the buyer of the piano by which she could retrieve her piano by playing for him. I remember finding the film so sensuous, shot at the most stunning locations such as the panoramic Karekare Beach (just west of Auckland), with me silently cheering the emancipation and the blossoming of the wife. The film won numerous awards including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes.

King Kong — It did not come as a shock to me that the expensive remake of the ‘70s film was shot in New Zealand knowing that again, the director is the Kiwi Sir Peter Jackson. The story revolved around a gorilla who was captured and brought to New York. New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, did very well as a substitute for the Apple city.

Wolverine — I will not be surprised that you are surprised. Yep. Your favorite macho actor of all time, Hugh Jackman, had spent time filming in Queensland, New Zealand, where the locations are absolutely stunning. (Now, you understand Anne Curtis?)

Avatar — With a world-class animation, digital, special effects and prop-making company based in Wellington, New Zealand is perfect for filming fantasy and sci-fi films. As a tourist in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, include a visit to the Weta Digital, Weta Workshop and Weta Studios in your itinerary.

The Last Samurai — And speaking of lasts, you would think that New Zealand would be the last place on earth to be the venue for a film about Japan. But, the Taranaki area, where a Japanese village was built, served well as Japan for the Tom Cruise film. Mount Taranaki became Mount Fuji, of course, just for the movie.

I could go on and on writing about the hundreds of beautiful films shot in the amazing country whose only claim to fame, we always thought, was its number of sheep which exceeded the human population.



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