Trailblazing director honoured Screen scholar

00:00, May 15 2014
Pioneer: Geoff Murphy, who has directed several hit New Zealand movies, received an honorary doctorate from Massey University yesterday.

It was all a bit ironic when New Zealand film-maker Geoff Murphy - best known for his work on Utu, Goodbye Pork Pie, and The Quiet Earth - was offered an honorary Doctorate in Literature from Massey University.

Murphy, 75, has directed 18 films in his career and pioneered a renaissance in New Zealand cinema in the 1980s with three genre-challenging hits.

He received his doctorate in Palmerston North yesterday at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences graduation ceremony.

"It was a bit of a surprise and I'm sure it will stand me in good stead when I have arguments with the authorities," he said.

"It's all a bit ironic because I failed English in School Certificate and now I've got a doctorate; it's a bit strange, looking back."

Associate Professor Joe Grixti, head of Massey's School of English and Media Studies, which nominated Murphy for the honorary doctorate, described him as "a leading pioneer of New Zealand's new film industry" who "richly deserves to be honoured for his outstanding contributions to the national culture and heritage".


A military-approved Donald Duck cartoon lay the building blocks for Murphy's career when he was a child in Palmerston North.

"My father was a colonel in the army, stationed at Linton, and we lived in Palmerston North," he said. "One day he came home with a projector and some films, and I had never seen a film before.

"He showed me this film about Donald Duck, which he had borrowed from the Americans, and Donald Duck was in the army and was required to paint a gun but couldn't find any paint."

"I watched it again very recently, it was a very eerie feeling seeing it on the internet after 70 years," he said. "Because I could remember it with great detail."

Vice-chancellor Steve Maharey said conferring the honorary doctorate on Murphy was a fitting way to celebrate the kind of determined, innovative spirit that Massey University championed.

"What Geoff Murphy achieved through film was to challenge the status quo and to inspire a fresh vision of New Zealand culture and history through his compelling, comical and dramatic stories and characters," he said.

"His films were remarkable when they were first made, and they continue to be treasures in our cultural canon.

"Geoff injected new life and direction into New Zealand cinema, and gave us new ways of seeing ourselves as a people."

Manawatu Standard