Sir Peter Jackson said it was an amazing experience to be given a prestigious arts honour by French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in Auckland on Sunday night.
"It's an award from a country which really was, in many ways, the author of the language of film that we know today," Sir Peter said.
Mr Valls flew into Auckland on Sunday for a two-day visit, starting with an event at the Auckland War Memorial Museum to meet members of the local French community and present the awards to Sir Peter and artist Fiona Pardington.
The Ordre des Arts et des Lettres is a French honour that recognises significant contributions to the arts and literature and is given to both French citizens and anyone else in the world the French government deems worthy of the award.
After addressing the 300-strong crowd entirely in French, Mr Valls presented the two with the eight-point, green-enamelled star.
Ms Pardington, one of New Zealand's leading photographers, said the honour was a dream come true: "Ever since I was a little girl I've been enamoured with France.
"I love the museums, I love champaign, I love the language even though I'm really bad at speaking it."
After being presented his honour, Sir Peter said: "To receive this award from a country with such a rich history in film is very humbling and special.
"In the 1890s they were making movies and already inventing close ups and wide shots and all the tricks that we still use today."
He then paid a brief homage to the 100th anniversary of World War I, and said his grandfather Will Jackson fought and was wounded in the Battle of the Somme in Northern France.
"There is never anything positive about people shooting each other, with one notable exception, me."
Sir Peter Jackson, best known as the director of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film trilogy said if his grandfather wasn't wounded there, he would never have met his grandmother when he was sent back to the UK for medical treatment.
"If he hadn't been wounded by a machine gun on French soil, I wouldn't exist today."
While here, Mr Valls will also meet with John Key to talk about French territories in the Pacific, the fight against Islamist terrorism, and the two countries' joint military heritage. He will lay a wreath at the Auckland War Memorial Museum cenotaph on Monday.
- Pool copy