“Avatar” producer Jon Landau announced at the start of the month that he and director James Cameron had arrived back in New Zealand to resume production on the long-awaited “Avatar” sequels. The two were among 56 filmmakers the New Zealand government granted permission to enter the country, which is slowly coming out of lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic. While Cameron is in the midst of a 14-day quarantine before going back to work as normal, several New Zealand politicians are speaking out against the government’s decision to allow the “Avatar” team back into the country.
In an interview with the New Zealand publication Stuff, Member of Parliament and Leader of ACT New Zealand David Seymour called the government’s decision “an insult to working New Zealanders.” Seymour noted that while film crews like the “Avatar” team were allowed back into New Zealand to resume work, many of the country’s homegrown workers in industries such as fishing and education have yet to be granted exemptions to get back to work.
“What are the rules at the border?” Seymour said. “At the moment, it seems that if you’re a friend of the Government, you’re in business. If not, you’re on your own. There should be one rule for everyone. It’s unacceptable for politicians to be picking and choosing who can enter the country.”
Judith Collins, the economic development spokesperson for the National Party, noted that resuming film production in New Zealand was important because of how much it boosts the country’s economy. “[The economy] needs all the help we can get,” she told Stuff, although she said it’s unfair for film crews to be allowed back while “many small businesses are still facing restrictions.”
“It certainly would seem some are not getting that same treatment,” Collins said. “There must be a lot of small businesses wondering if there are different rules for different people…Why does this particular venture get preferential treatment?”
The “Avatar” team is one of two film crews that have been allowed back into New Zealand. The other film crew is for a project that has not yet been publicly announced. Iain Cossar, member of the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment, said both film crews “met the criteria” needed to re-enter the country and stressed that these films will “provide employment to around 600 New Zealanders because of the significant level of economic activity from each production.”
Cossar added, “In the event that the exception applications had not been approved, the two productions would have remained in hibernation leaving the New Zealanders working on these projects without work.”
Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford approved each film member that was granted permission to re-enter the country and said that he “was not lobbied by studios and those allowed in had to meet strict criteria.” Crew members allowed back in New Zealand had to have a “highly unusual talent or skill” that is integral to the production, and the film projects had to be “time critical and have a big financial value to New Zealand.”
In an interview last December, Cameron said motion capture work on “Avatar 2” and “Avatar 3” had already been completed in its entirety and that all that was left to film on the first follow-up was live-action pickups. “Avatar 2” is scheduled to open in theaters from Disney on December 17, 2021.
Head over to Stuff’s website to read more about political opposition to restarting film production in New Zealand.