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UTU Redux in New Zealand International Film Festival


UTU Redux in New Zealand International Film Festival

Geoff Murphy’s original classic. Enhanced and restored for cinema screening 30 years after its initial release.

World Premiere: Wellington July 26 Embassy Theatre
Special Presentation: Auckland July 28 Civic Theatre

Thirty years after its initial New Zealand cinema release in 1983, Geoff Murphy’s original classic UTU has been enhanced and restored for cinema exhibition in modern digital format under the title UTU Redux.

The soundtrack has been re-mixed to 5.1 stereo and the picture re-mastered. Murphy also took the opportunity to refresh the edit.

The World Premiere will be in Wellington on July 26 when it takes pride of place as the opening film in the NZ International Film Festival, followed by a Special Presentation screening in Auckland on July 28.

Murphy says, “I was excited and amazed by the restoration process. The work done by Weta Digital on bringing the picture back to life was spectacular. It now looks better than it did the day it was first shown. Park Road Post were no less brilliant in their re-mastering and enhancing of the sound track. It’s like a completely new experience. I am proud to have been associated with it.”

NZ Film Commission chief executive Graeme Mason says, "Utu is a fantastic piece of New Zealand's cinematic history. The new version looks and sounds amazing and ensures this important film will connect with audiences for another 30 years and beyond."

NZ Film Archive chief executive Frank Stark says, “Utu is an essential component of the Film Archive's Saving Frames project and our contribution to its rebirth is probably the single most important result of the project to date. It was a landmark in the development of New Zealand film when it was released and its significance just keeps increasing with time.”

NZIFF director Bill Gosden says, “We celebrate the rescue and restoration of Geoff Murphy’s unsurpassed 1983 epic. Utu is unveiled afresh in its ravishing, pictorial splendour. Here it is, our own turbulent history transcribed with cinematic élan – and an elegiac, absurdist vision of the devil’s mischief in paradise.”

Utu is one of New Zealand’s most successful feature films. Its $3 million budget was the largest for a local film produced at the time. UTU Redux producers estimate that the film would have cost about $30 million in today’s terms. It was the first New Zealand film to be invited into the official selection at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, which led to a wide release in France. In 1983, its NZ box office take was second only to Murphy’s previous film, the box office smash Goodbye Pork Pie.

After the NZ release, the film was re-edited into a shortened, revised version for the US market, which premiered in New York at the same time as the triumphant Te Maori Exhibition (1984). During the re-edit, the master camera negative of the original version of the film was disassembled and edited to become the master negative for the revised version. This meant the original film had no master negative, which significantly compromised future duplication and screening possibilities. As time has passed, the remaining duplicate materials have degenerated to the point where UTU Redux producer Graeme Cowley was deeply shocked at the poor quality of the copy he saw broadcast on Maori Television in 2010.

As director of photography of the original Utu, he felt strongly that the film needed to be rescued. After discussing it with Murphy, he set about organising the complex process of restoring the film, while also raising the funds and securing the necessary co-operation to get it done. The restoration has taken three years.

Cowley, an industry veteran who has initiated several major ventures, says, “Utu is our most important film by one of our best filmmakers. Geoff’s films were pivotal in the development of our feature film industry. I found it appalling that all of the extremely high-quality work by the whole creative team was inaccessible in its original form and was in danger of being lost forever.”

Murphy and Michael Horton (editor of the original Utu) oversaw the new edit. During the process of rebuilding the film back to the original they used their considerable skills, experience and new digital technology to re-create it. In UTU Redux they have created a version that heightens the original film’s balance of energy and significance as well as the quality identified by The New Yorker film reviewer Pauline Kael in 1984 as a “feeling of exaltation and spirituality that hovers over this film”, while also increasing its relevance for today’s audiences.

Given that the original film was made 30 years ago, many of the film’s actors and crew are no longer with us. Vale: Bruno Lawrence, Wi Kuki Kaa, Martyn Sanderson, Tim Elliot, Merata Mita, Tom Poata, Faenza Rueben, Paul Leach and Shirley Gruar. UTU Redux is dedicated to its executive producer David Carson-Parker and sound editor Mike Hopkins, who died during the restoration. Carson-Parker, a generous benefactor of many arts projects, including the restoration of the Embassy Theatre, was an investor in the original Utu. Mike Hopkins won two Academy Awards for his work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

UTU synopsis: New Zealand in the 1870's. Te Wheke, a scout for the colonial troops, finds his tribe massacred by the army he is working for. Anguished and betrayed, he vows to exact retribution – utu – on the Pakeha.

UTU Redux credits:
Starring: Anzac Wallace, Bruno Lawrence, Wi Kuki Kaa, Kelly Johnson, Tim Elliot, Tania Bristowe, Ilona Rodgers, Martyn Sanderson
Directed by Geoff Murphy. Producers: Redux Graeme Cowley, Utu Don Blakeney, David Carson-Parker, Kerry Robins. Editor Michael Horton. Photography Graeme Cowley. Production Designer Ron Highfield. Music John Charles. Screenplay Geoff Murphy & Keith Aberdein.

UTU Redux was funded by: the initial equity partners in the production of the original film, the NZ Film Commission, NZ Film Archive and Park Road Post Production, which also did all the technical restoration work. The offline edit was done at The Dub Shop and digital scanning by Weta Digital.

UTU Redux Trailer:

NZIFF programme & bookings:

Duration: 109 minutes
Rating: PG

UTU Redux NZIFF Screenings:
Wellington Premiere: July 26, 8.30pm. Embassy
Wellington: July 31, 4pm. Embassy
Auckland Special Presentation: July 28, 6.15pm. Civic
Auckland: July 30, 3.45pm. Civic
Dates TBA for Christchurch, Dunedin and other centres

What the reviewers said in 1983/84

“Geoff Murphy has an instinct for popular entertainment. He also has a deracinated kind of hip lyricism. And they fuse quite miraculously in this epic… The ferocity of these skirmishes and raids is played off against an Arcadian beauty that makes your head swim.” — Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

“Utu must rate as the most powerful, expert and audience-appealing film yet to be wholly conceived and executed in this country.” – Mike Nicolaidi, Variety

“Geoff Murphy’s vision of the country and its people is the most affectionate, unpretentious and heroic. It is a film to be proud of.” - Aline Sandilands, Otago Daily Times

“Utu brandishes a New Zealand tragic style. It salutes Shakespeare – for its manner and for certain opportunities for ringing statement – and the Japanese picture master Kurosawa, especially for its resolution scenes.” – Gilbert Peterson, The Dominion

“From this spectacular film a primitive lyricism emerges accentuated by the incredible beauty of the countryside . . . A lesson in anthropology but also an adventure with a capital A.” – Catherine LaPorte, L’Express.

“Utu… has everything that traditionally dazzled cowboy and Indian movie fans: adventure, romance, danger, a sense of destiny. But unlike most of the old Westerns Utu also has a humanist approach that shows the Maori as thinking feeling people and with justifiable anger at the white man.” – Susan Green, Montreal Press.

“ . . . daring and positive… weaving an exciting story around the mysterious Maori concept of utu . .. Another kiwi triumph.” - Bob Williams, Evening Standard


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