Auckland-based Geoffrey Cawthorn has been directing drama and documentary for over 15 years, both in Australia and his native New Zealand.
Born in Putaruru, Cawthorn’s fascination with screen storytelling began with Saturday matinee screenings of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. After majoring in Social Anthropology at Auckland University, Cawthorn completed a Diploma in Broadcast Communication. This lead to a job in the documentary department of TVNZ. There he worked on Crimewatch, and learnt about everything from shooting and film editing to multi-camera techniques.
In 1989 Cawthorn relocated to Sydney where he worked at SBS as a director and editor on The Movie Show, featuring critic David Stratton. Off the cuff interview show Front Up followed, which became one of the network’s longest running series. Cawthorn then crossed over into drama, directing Australian staples like Home and Away and All Saints. He also gained a reputation for gritty urban crime dramas, thanks to shows like the multi award-winning Stingers. His work on ABC/BBC children’s series Eugenie Sandler P.I. brought an AFI nomination.
Cawthorn continued to return to work in New Zealand throughout this period. His black comedy Philosophy won the Best Short Film award at the 1999 NZ Film Awards, and screened in a number of international festivals. Co-written with Illustrious Energy scribe Martin Edmond, the film features Goodbye Pork Pie’s Tony Barry as a jocular undertaker.
Cawthorn helmed the third Lawless tele-movie Beyond Justice, and directed these pilot episodes of Rude Awakenings and Mercy Peak. He was nominated for best drama director for the later.
Cawthorn was also heavily involved in The Market, filmed on location in urban Otara and focusing on a Māori and Polynesian family at war. Asked to mentor two novice directors, he ended up directing four episodes. Cawthorn found it “an invigorating challenge” to work with a small guerilla team and cameras.
Cawthorn continues to have an ongoing connection with long-running soap Shortland Street, for which he has directed many episodes. He has shown his skills in fantasy by directing for Margaret Mahy series Maddigan’s Quest, The Amazing Extraordinary Friends, the partially fantastical Almighty Johnsons and Xena follow-up Legend of the Seeker.
Alongside his drama work Cawthorn has continued to direct documentaries. He tackled crime and punishment in Blind Justice and immigration in Instant Kiwis, but his strongest interest is in music. Cawthorn is a composer and musician himself, and has made several films with musical subjects. The Sydney Morning Herald called his self-titled profile of jazz pianist Mike Nock “an exceptionally well filmed biography that sensibly approaches the man through his music.”
Ten Guitars was an affectionate take on one of our favourite songs, while Through the Eyes of Love offers an ode to the great New Zealand love song. View from Olympus, a documentary on Kiwi/Greek composer John Psathas won Cawthorn a best documentary at NZ's 2012 Documentary Edge Festival. After playing in an Artsville television slot under the title Sound and Fury, the film howed in an extended cut at the 2011 International Film Festival.
Architect of Dreams — an earlier documentary, about Wellington architect Ian Athfield — was nominated for best NZ film at the 2009 DOCNZ awards. As well as directing, Cawthorn composed and performed the music. He is also developing feature film projects.
He is sometimes credited as Geoff Cawthorn, or — when gremlins occasionally get in the works — Geoffrey Cawthorne.
Review of Mike Nock - The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 October 1999