Hard News by Russell Brown

Six years on

About six years ago, I was at an old friend's birthday party in Wellington. Another old buddy excused himself after only an hour. "Gotta go," he explained. "We need to finish some R&D before the boss flies out to LA tomorrow." The boss was Peter Jackson.

The R&D was, of course, the 35-minute FX reel that Jackson used to convince New Line's Bob Shaye that he and his people were capable of pulling off a stupidly ambitious three-film version of The Lord of the Rings.

My old buddy, who was a building maintenance guy and a cycle courier when I first met him, worked for Weta Digital throughout the project. Actually - and this sounds like one of those OE Kiwi jokes where everyone in New Zealand knows each other, except it's not a joke because they sort of do - Return of the King's sweeping success at the Oscars is all the more pleasing because it's so close to home.

I know quite a few people who played their part in this bit of cinematic history: my cousin Luke, who built models at Weta; my neighbour's brother, who worked on the second unit; Adam the educated dustman, whose chest-length beard helped him into a variety of extra roles.

And then of course, there was Ngila Dickson, the costume designer, finally getting her Oscar. As I have explained before, she is a remarkably kind and talented woman, and we go way back to when Muldoon was Prime Minister. I am so pleased for her.

I don't think there's any point now in quibbling over whether Lord of the Rings was a proper New Zealand movie or not; not after hearing so many bluff New Zealand accents in those acceptance speeches; not after an Australian cinematographer has been obliged to make clear that, for once, he is not a New Zealander. (The Australians are actually being very gracious about it all.)

I took issue with Peter Calder on this matter a little while ago, and I've thought about it since. He held that we ought really celebrate "our own stories", such as Whale Rider, and not an imported epic. I know what he means: Whale Rider made me cry, Lord of the Rings never did. But the Rings trilogy is different - it's different from anything. And it's a New Zealand film because so many New Zealanders gave what they had to it. It is entirely possible that it could not have been pulled off anywhere else.

Moreover, I find it reassuring. As the Oscars ticked over yesterday, it felt like my New Zealand, creative New Zealand, and not the petty and resentful place it has lately seemed. I love the fact that my kids can lap up these films and know who made them, and where.

I'm not really in the mood for the inevitable jaded, get-over-it commentary: for goodness sake, if we can't go OTT in celebrating what happened yesterday - something orders of magnitude greater than any sporting victory we might aspire to - then there's something wrong with us.

I'm comfortable with this, and proud of it.