2021 Kea World Class Friend of New Zealand Award winner – James and Suzy Amis Cameron
James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron’s connection with New Zealand goes back to 1994 when James first visited the South Island while waiting to catch a delayed flight from Christchurch down to the Antarctic.
“I rented a car and just started driving around the South Island and it was just amazing. I had such a wonderful time driving around by myself, talking to people and meeting people” James said to NZ Story.
“I came away 10 days later saying I’m going to come and live here someday. I had never felt that connection to a place that strongly before. And I never really lost that dream,” he says.
Son of an engineer, Canada-born James Cameron majored in physics at California State University before switching to English, eventually dropping out. He then drove a truck to support his screenwriting ambition, until he landed his first professional film job as art director, miniature-set builder, and process-projection supervisor on Roger Corman’s Battle Beyond the Stars (1980).
In 1990, Cameron formed his own production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. He then wrote and directed Titanic (1997), a epic that became the highest-grossing movie of all time… for 12 years, until Cameron beat his own incredible personal best with Avatar (2009), grossing an astounding USD two billion dollars at the box office.
“People call me a perfectionist, but I’m not. I’m a rightist. I do something until it’s right, and then I move on to the next thing,” James says.
Despite being one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood, Cameron is also an explorer with a huge passion for the planet. In 2012 he reached the bottom of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point on Earth, 11 km below the ocean surface, becoming the first person to do so in a one-man craft. He later famously commented, “Hitting rock bottom never felt so good”.
In 2000, he married Suzy Amis, an actress who’d appeared in Titanic. Suzy is a powerhouse in her own right and has an impressive CV as an educator and environmentalist, as well as actor.
“My personal journey is all about the environment,” Suzy tells. “It’s what wakes me up in the morning with a pit in my stomach – what kind of planet are our children going to grow up in?”
The Cameron family – James, Suzy, and their family – live on a 5000-hectare farm in the South Wairarapa, where they grow organic fruit, nuts and vegetables.
And from the farm, it’s an easy commute to Wellington’s Miramar film hub where Avatar has been filmed and the technical production continues.
Both James and Suzy are incredibly passionate about New Zealand, its geography and its people. Recalling his first visit and unexpected discovery of New Zealand in the mid-1990s, James describes New Zealand as “my kind of country”, because of the “sensory stimulation” of the natural environment and “making real connections with people”.
“I came as a stranger. I knew very little about New Zealand and I left in love with it. Not just the land, the beauty of the land, obviously, is very seductive but there’s something about the dynamic spirit of the people.”
“If you enjoy the outdoors and you enjoy a sense of adventure, you’re not going to be able to beat this place anywhere in the world,” James says.