Kiwi lawmaker promotes film, green growth

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Kiwi lawmaker promotes film, green growth

If you believe New Zealand is a scenic country that only has unending stretches of grassland and sheep ranches, think again. The country has a lot to offer to Korea’s efforts to develop green energy sources and advanced agricultural technologies, and it can even help Korea explore international film markets, said Melissa Lee, the first Korean member of New Zealand’s parliament.

Lee, a former journalist with a 20-year career, accompanied New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key on his first visit to Korea last week, meeting with Korean lawmakers and film industry representatives.

Lee, who is also a screenwriter, has helped Korean filmmakers shoot movies in New Zealand and played a central role in forging the Film Co-Production Agreement between the two countries in 2008.

“There are many ways Korea and New Zealand can benefit from an FTA ... not just in the agricultural sector but also in the IT sector,” Lee said in an interview with the JoongAng Daily last Thursday during her latest visit to Seoul.

Korea and New Zealand, which have been exploring the possibility of an a trade pact for years, pledged to accelerate their efforts during Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s state visit to New Zealand in May 2009.

During Key’s visit to Seoul last week, he and President Lee also vowed to work harder to conclude the free trade pact “as early as possible.”

“I think green tech is another area we can explore together, because 70 percent of the energy in New Zealand is from renewable energy sources,” she said.

President Lee’s “green growth” initiative, which is based on renewable energy sources, has been one of the most consistent mantras among Korean government officials since the president made it one of his policy priorities.

“We have a lot of natural resources, especially water, and we also have geothermal energy. We are actually more advanced than Korea in this regard and I will be very interested to see more cooperation between the two countries in this area.”

She also noted that New Zealand, a hot spot for movie production, has a lot to offer Korean filmmakers eyeing the international market to broaden their reach.

“There is a huge technical base for film production in New Zealand, like Weta Digital [a Wellington-based digital visual effect company founded by Peter Jackson, the director of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy], and I really think we have a good environment where Korean filmmakers can create scripts and shoot films more oriented for international audiences,” she said.

New Zealand is known to offer extensive tax benefits and production assistance, which eventually helped the country garner foreign investments worth 380 million New Zealand dollars ($269 million) last year. After Hollywood hits like the Lord of the Rings, “King Kong” and “Avatar” were shot or produced in the country, Steven Spielberg enlisted Weta Digital to help him complete his new animated feature, “The Adventures of Tintin,” which is to be released in 2011.

But no film has yet been made under the film co-production agreement between Korea and New Zealand, although local box office hits like “Silmido” and “Oldboy” were shot or post-produced in the country in the past. However, Lee expressed confidence that more projects will be realized down the road, saying there are about eight projects being discussed for co-production between the two countries.

“I think the energy is there. And the desire to have a Korean-New Zealand film co-production is there,” she said.

Lee said she would meet with local film industry representatives during her visit, including CJ Entertainment’s Vice Chairwoman Lee Mie-kyung and Lee Choon-yeon, a local film industry guru and the head of Korea filmmakers’ association.


By Jung Ha-won [hawon@joongang.co.kr]

Melissa Lee
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