The New Zealand Film Commission is trying to capitalise on the country's high profile due to Lord Of The Rings, by helping to develop international co-productions.

John Gilbert, Academy Award nominee for his editing on The Fellowship Of The Ring and producer of a popular NZ sitcom, is in discussion with producer Andrew Bendel from the new London company Blue Horizon Productions, on a UK/New Zealand co-production. Plans were cemented this month when Bendel visited NZ as part of a 10-member delegation of European producers.

The partnership was forged after Bendel expressed interest in the film rights to the NZ play The Ballard Of Jimmy Costello, performed at the Edinburgh Festival of Arts several years ago.

Gilbert had got in first with Tim Balme writer and performer of the piece, based on a true story about a 1960s petty criminal who became a folk hero after escaping jail several times. Balme has also written the screenplay to be directed by Mike Smith, one of the country's most experienced television directors. Gilbert and Smith are collaborators on the sitcom Willy Nilly, which is about to go into its third series. Gilbert has just edited Perfect Strangers, starring Sam Neill, and has two other features in development.

The delegation enabled progress on several joint ventures. Chief executive of The Film Consortium, Chris Auty, is working on NZ director Vincent Ward's fifth feature, River Queen, alongside Sydney-based producer Don Reynolds. Nik Powell, of London's Scala Productions, is involved in Harry Sinclair's fourth NZ feature, the surreal romantic comedy Surprising New Zealand, alongside local producers Fiona Copland and Juliette Veber.

David Parfitt of London's Trademark Films and NZ producer Finola Dwyer are planning to co-produce Anthony McCarten's second feature, Spinners, about a small town's encounter with aliens. Discussions have also begun between NZ's Trevor Haysom and Europe's Dixie Linder over the mystery drama In My Father's Den, which Brad McGann is likely to direct.