Director Vincent Ward is off the New Zealand shoot of River Queen and, unlike Samantha Mortonwho earlier took time out because of illness, isn't coming back.

A statement issued today from the production office saidonly that Ward "has been removed". It did not give a reason andpublicist Sue May declined to do so. Filming will continue but a replacementdirector has yet to be named.

Silverscreen Films' Don Reynolds, who is producing with TheFilm Consortium's Chris Auty, told Screendaily.comon Friday that River Queen wouldbenefit from the improved weather and longer daylight hours, as well as thereassessment of the story and locations undertaken during the six-weekshut-down. But he was speaking before this latest news.

He also said the film would strongly appeal because of the"wonderful performances, the story, and the exotica of the locations, thepeople and the period". The amount of notice it received could alsoincrease interest in it, he added wryly.

Toa Fraser and Ward wrote the script from Ward's originalidea. It is described as an intimate portrayal within an epic context: a youngIrish woman finds herself with family on both sides during the turbulent warsbetween Europeans and Maori in 1860s New Zealand. Several of NZ's mostsuccessful recent films have had strong Maori themes.

Kiefer Sutherland, Cliff Curtis, Stephen Rea and TemueraMorrison are also on the troubled New Zealand/UK co-production, which isshooting in the central North Island. It is now in its seventh week ofprincipal photography after resuming on October 4 and is scheduled to run untilNovember 29.

"We are happy to confirm the continuing support of ourinvestors, and are most grateful to our cast and crew for their ongoingcommitment to the film", said producers Don Reynolds and Chris Auty intoday's statement.

River Queen's budget is reputed to be about US$12m. Theinvestors are the New Zealand Film Production Fund, New Zealand FilmCommission, The Film Consortium, The UK Film Council, Endgame and Invicta. TheWorks is handling worldwide sales rights except for Japan and Asia, which areNZ Film's domain. The UK, Australia and New Zealand was pre-bought by 20thCentury Fox.