Vale Geoff Murphy, Kiwi film pioneer

Geoff Murphy.

Producer, director and screenwriter Geoff Murphy, a leading figure in New Zealand cinema’s renaissance of the late 1970s and early 1980s, died in Wellington on Monday. He was 80.

Murphy was best known as the director of Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth. Action-comedy Goodbye Pork Pie, a road movie starring Kelly Johnson, Tony Barry and Claire Oberman, became the first local film to gain blockbuster status at the box office in 1981, according to the New Zealand Film Commission.

“He deserves every ounce of credit for the brilliant things he did with The Quiet Earth,” writer-director Sam Pillsbury told Stuff NZ. “He was a genius and one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever worked with and I learned a lot from him.”

He was was a founding member of Blerta, the musical and theatrical co-operative that toured New Zealand in the early 1970s. His first feature, 1977’s Wild Man, was developed and largely improvised by Blerta regulars, including Bruno Lawrence.

Veteran producer John Barnett, who worked with Murphy on Wild Man, said: “He was always innovative and was able to do things on the smell of an oily rag. He had some very strong views and was always ready to offer an opinion. Quite often that meant he fell foul of the authorities.

“But he was one of the pioneers of the business in New Zealand, both in terms of the kind of content he wanted to put on screen and also, possibly more importantly, the way he approached things. He had a determination to get things done at a time when there wasn’t any money to make films.”

Jacinda Ahern, the NZ Prime Minister and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, said: “Geoff Murphy will long be remembered for his significant contribution to New Zealand’s emerging film industry and for showcasing our distinct culture on screen.

“At a time when New Zealand was developing a cultural identity of our own, Geoff was helping us to shape a sense of who we are with the stories he told and the iconic images he created.”

After Utu and The Quiet Earth gained international attention, he directed road movie Never Say Die, giving a then-unknown Temuera Moirrison his first starring role.

At the end of the 1980s he worked mainly in the US, directing films like Young Guns II and Under Siege 2 and serving as second unit director on Roger Donaldson’s Dante’s Peak and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.

In 2001 he returned home to piece together skits, shorts and musical performances from the Blerta archives to create the documentary Blerta Revisited. After that he directed his first local feature in 14 years: Spooked, a cyber-thriller starring Cliff Curtis.

In 2013 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Moa New Zealand Film Awards and was named as one of 20 Arts Icons by the Arts Foundation.

In 2014 he was awarded a New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s New Year Honours. His autobiography ‘A Life on Film’ was published by Harper Collins in 2015.

His death came shortly after news that Heperi Mita, his son with fellow filmmaker Merata Mita (who died in 2010), had his documentary Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen invited to next year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Among the survivors are his third wife Dianne and five children including his son Matt, who directed the remake Pork Pie last year.