The great liberator of the New Zealand screen has died. Though Goodbye Pork Pie in 1981 was not the first New Zealand feature to hit the screen, nor even the first by Geoff Murphy, it was the first to shrug off the self-consciousness of a fledgling industry and seize the medium to express a whole-hearted, alternative view of New Zealand. The momentum and sheer joy of it were intoxicating – and its success was a balm to a country about to be divided by the Springbok tour.
Murphy and his creative band of brothers dived deeper to follow their crowd-pleaser with something much more ambitious, resonant and beautiful. Utu, especially in its revisited form from 2013, remains the apogee of epic filmmaking in, about and for Aotearoa. While Pork Pie encapsulates a specific time, Utu is a film for the ages, better understood now than when it first appeared.
If Geoff Murphy had authored only these two films his impact on the culture might already be described as indelible. His legacy is so much greater than that, an extended whanau of filmmakers, not least his own sons and daughter. We think of them now, and his wife Dianne, as we mourn their personal loss – and celebrate the remarkable life and legacy of a national hero. – BG