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Plan to build a Wellywood sign in New Zealand draws sharp reaction from Hollywood chamber

May 25, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Travel & Deal blogger
  • A computer-designed photo shows what a Hollywood-type sign would look like in Wellington, New Zealand.
A computer-designed photo shows what a Hollywood-type sign would look… (EPA / Wellington Airport )

Wellington International Airport in New Zealand's capital city is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to construct a giant "Wellywood" sign on an unused hillside that it hopes will become an iconic symbol of its prowess in the global film world.

Hollywood is not amused. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which holds the trademark for the historic sign featuring 45-foot-tall letters, said in a statement Monday that it had warned the airport more than a year ago to seek permission from the chamber if it planned to construct such a sign. Chamber officials said they thought the idea had died when they didn't hear back from the airport.

With fresh reports of the sign's upcoming construction, the chamber is seeking legal advice. Its statement reads in part: "We are not without a sense of humor, nor without legal rights. We hope that if the Wellington airport wants to mimic our Sign in this fashion, it will proceed in cooperation with us and will recognize that the holder of the rights to the Sign and the party responsible for its continued existence is a nonprofit entity that works hard to raise funds so that the Sign even exists to be mimicked."

The chamber was reacting to the airport's upbeat news release Saturday about its decision to expedite construction of the Wellywood sign on a hillside on the Miramar Peninsula. The airport hopes to bring another "high-profile attraction" to Wellington that celebrates its film contributions.

The sign, about 26 feet by 98 feet, "will be the city’s newest photo opportunity and is expected to appear on more than a few holiday snaps in the coming years."

The airport cited the following evidence that the name Wellywood had global gravitas: The nickname has been used in the media, particularly in the New York Times, and a Google search of the name generates 224,000 results.

Airport Chief Executive Steven Fitzgerald said in the release that he expected "widespread support for the intent of the sign, even if a Wellywood sign isn't everyone's cup of tea."

Indeed, at least one protest was held over the sign, and criticism has appeared on the airport's Facebook page. "I don't think that copying another [country's] cultural sign is really doing much for our own culture. We have become so americanised lately, and its sad.... what happened to Kiwiana?" read a comment attributed to Alexandra Tui Hegh.

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