By ROBERT WARD
LOS ANGELES - It was a great way to show New Zealand to Hollywood's movie glitterati.
New Zealand's ambassador to the US, former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, presided over a bash that included the best of New Zealand food and drink, rousing speeches from two of the country's best-known mayors and a six-minute preview of The Lord of the Rings.
There was only one snag - the people the Kiwis really wanted to impress were not there.
Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey and his Wellington counterpart, Mark Blumsky, are in Los Angeles drumming up support for New Zealand - especially Waitakere and Wellington - as a great place to make movies.
The big prize they are angling for is the third Star Wars "prequel," due to be released in 2005. New Zealand missed out on Star Wars II, which is now being filmed in Sydney.
But nobody from Lucasfilm, which makes the Star Wars movies, was at Mr Bolger's party. Neither were any other movie moguls - just people at various levels of film production.
And Mr Harvey's scheduled meeting with an executive of Twentieth Century Fox, which distributes Star Wars, fell through.
But the party, held at the home of Consul-General Jim Howe in Los Angeles on Saturday, was still good exposure for what movie magic and New Zealand scenery can achieve.
The six-minute "showreel" of The Lord of the Rings was the highlight of the evening.
It showed dark, hooded figures against magnificent New Zealand landscapes, some of the 20,000 extras and computer clones in battle scenes, a quaint, rustic Middle Earth village, artists' drawings that inspired the production design, and the stars - Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Christopher Lee - in costume.
Mr Bolger's guests greeted it with enthusiastic cheering and whistling. He encouraged them to make their films in New Zealand.
As a logo saying "The World in One Country" was projected across the screen, Mr Bolger said he spoke for the embassy and consulate staff and Film Commission executives when he said: "We're from the Government. We're here to help."
Actor Kevin Smith (Ares in Xena: Warrior Princess) did a down-home, Kiwi-bloke act as MC. And Mr Blumsky boasted about the range of films being made in Wellington, from the $1.8 million Stickman to the $400 million The Lord of the Rings.
Mr Harvey did some boasting of his own, about Xena and the west coast beaches of Waitakere City.
And Richard Ross, senior vice-president of production for Studios USA, which makes Xena, told his fellow American film-makers what a "wonderful" experience his company had filming in New Zealand.
Partygoers were rewarded with cheeses, green-lipped mussels, eel fillet and smoked salmon rolls, seared lamb tenderloin and venison casserole.