Kiwi creative icon Ian Mune is the veritable man of many parts — a great many of them classics. His contributions to New Zealand screen history encompass dozens of acting roles (Sleeping Dogs, Fallout), directing (The End of the Golden Weather), writing (Goodbye Pork Pie) and adapting works written for other mediums (The Silent One). Three of the five movies he has directed have won awards for New Zealand film of the year; two earned a place in the ten highest grossing Kiwi films soon after release.
Born in 1941, Mune dabbled in acting while growing up on a farm near Tauranga. Later he tried to balance theatre and teacher training in Wellington; acting won, taking him to the United Kingdom and job offers from The Royal Shakespeare Company. Instead, he returned home, determined to "talk my own language".
In 1971 Mune made his screen debut in New Zealand's first ongoing drama series Pukemanu, playing a "nasty, greasy" truckdriver. He was also one of many scriptwriters to cut their teeth on the show.
By the mid-70s, Mune was on a major creative roll. In 1976 he won Feltex television awards on both sides of the camera: one for adapting Ian Cross novel The God Boy, another for his title role as trade unionist Leo Moynihan in popular trans-Tasman co-production Moynihan.
Alongside filmmaking partner Roger Donaldson, Mune was also making inroads in independent production. After their one-off drama Derek, which Mune also starred in, the pair won funding to make anthology series Winners and Losers (1976). The plan was that by pooling their talents they would upskill themselves, and Mune would learn more about directing. The Mune-directed episode Big Brother, Little Sister was likely the first local television drama to examine alienated, urban Māori. Mune also directed the A Great Day episode of the series. Mune set off overseas and vigorously sold Winners and Losers around the globe, pointing the way for others in television to follow.
Mune and Donaldson were also collaborating to write their first full-length movie, Sleeping Dogs, often seen as start point for the late 70s renaissance of Kiwi cinema. Mune took one of the main roles; as he says in documentary The Life of Ian, acting opposite the more "contained" Sam Neill taught him the value of being in the moment.
Mune then followed Roger Donaldson overseas again, to work on uncredited rewrites for The Bounty. When Mune returned home, he was ready to make his debut as a feature film director — 1984's colourful conman caper Came a Hot Friday, which American magazine Variety called "a major advance in Kiwi Comedy"; Mune called it absolutely "the best time of my life".
Both Came a Hot Friday and Mune's long-gestating The End of the Golden Weather (1991) were based on Kiwi classics from another medium (in the latter case, Bruce Mason's classic one man play). Both display Mune's keen eye for imaginative recreations of a golden, yet far from perfect New Zealand past. Both won multiple awards. The End of the Golden Weather also demonstrated Mune's abilities with novice actors: in the central role of a boy in the process of leaving childhood behind, 12-year-old Stephen Fulford took away the best actor award at 1993's Los Angeles Youth in Film ceremony.
There were more awards for 1996's The Whole of the Moon, including two for teen newcomer Nikki Si'ulepa, playing an outwardly tough cancer sufferer. Like Friday and Golden Weather, The Whole of the Moon scored yet another NZ Film Award winner for best film. Earlier Mune had directed telemovie The Grasscutter (1988), based around a former terrorist from Northern Ireland on the run in New Zealand.
Having turned down Once Were Warriors, in 1999 Mune found himself helming the sequel, when the previous director left the project close to the start of filming. Mune had already been involved in rewrites on the project, which presente the challenge of showing that redemption might be possible for the wife-beating Jake the Muss. What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? won nine of its 13 New Zealand Film Award nominations. It remains Mune's biggest commercial success to date.
Mune's writing resume ranges from 1974's Buck House to working with Geoff Murphy on the script to Kiwi classic Goodbye Pork Pie (Murphy initially contacted him to ask if the project had any promise). His prolific acting career has alternated between Kiwi everyman and gruff authority figure, including Bullen in Sleeping Dogs, the tyrannical father in A Song of Good, Winston Churchill (cable movie Ike: Countdown to D-Day), and award-winning turns as Air NZ head Morrie Davis (Erebus - The Aftermath) and ex-PM Robert Muldoon (Fallout).
Mune's long acting career has also seen him treading the boards at Wellington's Downstage and Auckland's Mercury theatres. After a long period of acting in other mediums, his return to theatre was recorded in Waka Attewell's 1996 fly-on-the-wall doco In the Shadow of King Lear. He can be seen making a short film with NZ Drama School students in this documentary, made a few years earlier.
Mune has remained a passionate advocate for telling New Zealand stories, and outspoken in his belief that creative decisions should remain unstifled by bureaucratic interference.
In 1991 he was awarded an OBE, for services to film and theatre. Mune's self-titled autobiography was published in November 2010. Reviewing the book for the NZ Writers Guild, Came a Hot Friday scripter Dean Parker described it as "what you'd expect: candid, loyal, intelligent, bemused at funding bodies, and hugely entertaining".
In 2007 Mune was the star of John Carlaw's documentary The Life of Ian. Then Mune took the directing reins again, to tell the story of another Kiwi legend; big screen doco Billy T: Te Movie explores the life, work and tragic passing of Mune's Came a Hot Friday star. The film mixes interviews, restored footage, and animated sequences. Billy T: Te Movie opened in August 2011, at the top of the local box office charts.
Profile written and researched by Ian Pryor
Ian Mune, Mune - An Autobiography (Nelson: Craig Potton Publishing, 2010)
Sarah Daniell, 'Ian Mune' (Interview) - Listener, 29 January 2005, page 12
Trisha Dunleavy, Ourselves in Primetime: A History of New Zealand Television Drama (Auckland University Press, 2005)
Roger Horrocks, ‘New Zealand Film Makers at the Auckland City Art Gallery: Ian Mune' (Catalogue) 1985
Dean Parker, 'Book Review: Mune - An Autobiography' - The Write Stuff, Issue 22, November 2010