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New Zealand’s film industry heads back to work after coronavirus


New Zealand’s capital has had an extra buzz of excitement over the past week since Hollywood director James Cameron and his crew flew in to film the much-anticipated sequel of the epic science-fiction film “Avatar.”

The film is among a handful of productions kicking off in New Zealand as it begins to open up after containing the novel coronavirus, and looks to its film industry to give its battered economy a boost.

New Zealand’s borders remain closed to foreigners but the government gave special permission for the 55 crew members working on the “Avatar” sequel to jet in on a chartered plane.

“Certainly, the fact that we are able to start earlier than some countries is great, much as it’s distressing to see that the pandemic is still such a challenge around the world,” said Annabelle Sheehan, chief executive of the New Zealand Film Commission.

New Zealand’s mountains, meadows and forests, made famous by “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, have drawn several major film productions over recent years.

About 47 productions were underway when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a tough lockdown on March 26 to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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It was a great success and the virus has been almost eliminated in New Zealand, which could be among the first countries in the world to return to normal this week, apart from the closed border.

Avatar producer Jon Landau posted a picture of himself and director Cameron after landing last week and said they would self-isolate for 14 days in line with government rules.

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“Your country has become a leader in how to deal with something like this, and I think films will want to come,” Landau told Radio New Zealand in an interview, referring to the coronavirus campaign.

With people around the world cooped up at home, pressure is on film-makers and other content creators to make new material and get it out.

But what’s holding them back is the lack of safe places to work, industry experts say. Now New Zealand is an option.


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