Peter Jackson ‘stole’ the NZ film industry, says Dr Geoff Murphy

News Release from Massey University

Veteran filmmaker Geoff Murphy used the platform of Massey University’s graduation ceremonies to claim Sir Peter Jackson “stole” the New Zealand film industry and ended its golden era.

Dr Murphy, 75, who pioneered the 1980s renaissance in New Zealand cinema with hit films Goodbye Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth, was in Palmerston North this week to receive a Doctor of Literature (Honoris Causa) for his contribution to the industry.

He acknowledged Sir Peter for achieving the unbelievable but said the downside to his extraordinary success was that New Zealand national cinema was “shunted sideways, because Peter doesn’t make New Zealand films, he makes films for Warner Brothers”.

Dr Murphy told graduates at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences ceremony on Wednesday that his career began in 1977 when the New Zealand Film Commission was launched and called for film makers to “give us our own heroes”.

“For a few golden years we did that – we gave the country its own heroes and they loved it.”

He said the era effectively ended when Sir Peter “stole the film industry off us – a bit like the Grinch that stole Christmas”.

He said Sir Peter’s success in securing from Hollywood “the biggest movie deal in the history of world cinema,” with the Lord of the Rings trilogy worth hundreds of millions and all filmed in New Zealand” was fairytale stuff. “No one believed you could posibly do that. No one, except Peter Jackson.”

Dr Murphy was second unit director on all three Lord of the Rings films. He said they had “very little to do with us, culturally” and he hoped Sir Peter might return to making New Zealand films one day. “That would be good. He quite clearly is a phenomenal filmmaker.

“We may see the day when New Zealand films are once again topping the list of box films. That’ll bring a smile to our faces. And that’s what its all about – bringing a smile to the faces of New Zealanders.”

Actor-turned-lawyer Kelly Johnson, who played Blondini in Goodbye Pork Pie, read the citation for the conferral of the honorary doctorate. He said Dr Murphy was at the forefreont of a new wave of New Zealand cinema with “huge box office hits that altered New Zealanders’ reluctance to watch locally made movies”.

His second major successful film, Utu, was a vision of “the most important and complex event in our history, the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s. Utu broke new ground by refusing to simply this complexity, and by introducing both Maori and Pakeha perspectives.”

He said Dr Murphy, as well being a film director, writer, actor and special effects expert, was also a musician with legendary rock/jazz band Blerta. He was inventive at a time when movie technology and resources were limited. He dressed up as a traffic officer and drove into a lake for Pork Pie when there was no stuntman available. To create a sweeping shot of an entire army in Utu he commandeered local rugby teams carrying sticks for guns, while the calvary were girls from a pony club wearing cardboard hats. “But when it’s all put together, you can’t tell. It looks like an army.”

Last year Dr Murphy was recognised as one of New Zealand’s 20 greatest living artists by the Arts Foundation, and in January he was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to film.

The Quiet Earth was based on a novel by former Massey University English lecturer Dr Craig Harrison.

His speech is online here.

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