New Zealand salutes Jackson - CONQUERING HERO: Newspapers crowned the Lord of the Rings director `Lord of the Oscars,' while the government worked out the best way to honor the filmmaker

Lord of the Oscars:New Zealand newspapers sport front-page stories about the Oscar success of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King yesterday. PHOTO: APLord of the Oscars:New Zealand newspapers sport front-page stories about the Oscar success of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King yesterday. PHOTO: AP

Wednesday, Mar 03, 2004,Page 5

New Zealand crowned Peter Jackson its "Lord of the Oscars" yesterday after the emotional finale of his fantasy trilogy dominated the 76th Academy Awards.

After a night of celebrations, authorities in Jackson's home town, Wellington, were discussing how best to honor him and celebrate the stunning success of the locally made movie -- after The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King scored the only 11-category clean sweep in Oscar history.

Both Ben-Hur and Titanic won as many Academy Awards -- but neither won every category for which they were nominated.

After the first two movies picked up a total of six mainly minor Oscars in the last two years, the gripping final installment grabbed top honors, including Best Director and Best Picture.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast agreed Jackson should be lauded at a public function.

"I'm happy to consider whatever he is comfortable with," Clark told reporters, describing Jackson as "a modest, humble and retiring person."

Tourism operators were already moving to cash in the higher profile New Zealand achieved at the awards.

Clark said New Zealand "simply couldn't buy publicity like [the Oscar success]," as Tourism New Zealand said it was launching a newspaper follow-up advertising campaign in California to lure American tourists.

"Continuing success of the third film will keep New Zealand in the minds of the traveling public more, and that's the hard job we've got to do, particularly in the United States, making sure we get noticed," said the government agency's Chief Executive George Hickton.

New figures out yesterday showed New Zealand attracted 244,300 visitors in January, 10.9 percent more than the same month a year earlier.

The trilogy has already pumped millions of dollars into the New Zealand economy, mainly through soaring numbers of tourists flying into the picturesque nation of 4 million to visit film locations -- even though only one location still shows any sign of filming.

Surveys reveal as many as one in 10 visitors mentioned the film trilogy among the reasons for visiting the country.

Tourism Minister Mark Burton said that only four years ago, New Zealand was "not particularly well known" as an international destination.

"Last night, the entire world saw proof that New Zealand is one of the most exciting, innovative and creative nations in the world -- an invaluable boost to our entire tourism sector," he said.

Daily newspapers trumpeted the clean sweep outcome of the Oscars.

Auckland daily The New Zealand Herald shouted "The Lord of the Oscars" on a front page given over to the event, including a photo of a triumphant Jackson brandishing one of his gold statuettes.

"Lord of the Oscars -- Clean Sweep" headlined the capital's Dominion Post on a four-page wraparound of photos from the night.

Inside it reported: "It's no fantasy -- Jackson rules at Oscars," alongside a photo of the movie supremo and his partner and fellow double-Oscar winner Fran Walsh.

"I think it's certainly a proud day for New Zealand yesterday, and particularly proud for Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and the crew," Clark told National Radio yesterday.

New Zealand's parliament passed a unanimous resolution welcoming the Oscar successes.

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