It is with much sadness that the NZFC acknowledges the death of writer and director Michael Firth on 9 October.
Firth started his filmmaking career as a teenager, experimenting with an 8mm camera to make a documentary about a tribe of Brazilian Indians while living with them in the jungle.
A passion for alpine skiing led him to self-fund Off the Edge. The low-budget film became the first New Zealand film to be nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.
It was seven years before Firth’s next feature, psychological drama, Heart of the Stag. The film starred Bruno Lawrence who helped workshop the script with actress Mary Regan and Martyn Sanderson. Dealing with controversial subject matter – incest – the film was voted best Kiwi film of the year by Metro Magazine.
A year later, Firth reunited with many of his Heart of the Stag crew to make Sylvia, a film about pioneering educator Sylvia Ashton-Warner. It took several years for funding to be secured and it was not until Firth agreed to cast British actors in three of the four main roles that the project was greenlit. Firth worked closely with Ashton-Warner on the film, but she died before its completion. The film received fantastic reviews from both local and international critics.
For his next film, Firth returned to the world of adventure sports. In an early version of crowdfunding, The Leading Edge was financed with 1100 investors putting in $1000 each. The film featured many of New Zealand’s star skiers and culminated with an Iron Man race as well as featuring a cameo by Billy T James as a helicopter pilot. The film generated good reviews, but the 1987 stock market crash affected sales.
In 1994 Firth directed Vulcan Lane, the first feature length production to be shot digitally in New Zealand. Vulcan Lane was barely seen in New Zealand, but sold well to US cable networks.
Always drawn to sport, Firth went on to produce 52 episodes of Adrenalize, a successful extreme sports series, and directed television commercials and promotional films around the world. A keen trout fisherman, he made fishing series Take the Bait, doing most of the camerawork and narration himself as he explored New Zealand’s best trout fishing locations.
Michael is survived by his wife, Claire Firth and three sons, Nick Hamilton and Sam and Matthew Firth. His funeral will be held on 20 October in Auckland, at St Mary’s Church in Parnell.