Craig Lahiff, director/writer and producer and one of the pillars of the South Australian screen industry, died in Adelaide on Sunday after a short illness. He was 66.
His final film, Swerve, a thriller about an honest guy who stumbles upon a suitcase of money and a decapitated body on a desert highway, starring David Lyons, Jason Clarke and Emma Booth, was released in Australian cinemas in 2012 and was sold to the US and the UK.
Helen Leake produced three films with Lahiff: Heaven’s Burning, Black and White and Swerve. “Renowned for his calmness and quiet persuasion in all aspects of his work Craig brought to all of his films a very clear vision that he imparted to all his collaborators,” she said.
“Long-time friend Louis Nowra recalls Craig’s ‘grace under pressure’ as a director, and all his colleagues found his craft skills and technical understanding of all aspects of the film making process unique.
“He was an amazingly kind and generous person, who gave his time and knowledge unstintingly to those who were fortunate to work with him, and to his friends.”
After a background in the computer industry, Lahiff graduated with a Masters in Film at Flinders University when he was in his 30s. In 1987 he directed, Coda, a telemovie about a maniac who stalks and kills female students at a university, starring Penny Cook, Arna-Maria Winchester and Liddy Clark.
The following year he made his feature debut with Fever, which starred Bill Hunter as a cop who finds a suitcase full of drug money and is tempted to keep it. The film was nominated for best director and best score at the AFI awards.
Leake said he turned down offers to work in the US to care for his twin sons Sean and Daland.
Ebbtide (1994) was a thriller about a lawyer who falls in love with a murder suspect, starring Harry Hamlin, Judy McIntosh and John Waters.
Scripted by Louis Nowra, Heaven’s Burning (1997) was a drama about a gang who takes as a hostage a Japanese girl on the run from an arranged marriage, featuring Russell Crowe, Yûki Kudô and Ray Barrett.
Black and White (2002) featured Robert Carlyle, Charles Dance and Kerry Fox in a re-enactment of the landmark 1958 South Australian Court trial of young aboriginal Max Stuart.
After the film screened on the ABC on Australia Day in 2008, Phillip Adams wrote to the producer: “What I've just seen is one of the finest (films) I've ever seen. From Australia or anywhere else. Would you please pass on to your colleagues and collaborators my gratitude and profound admiration."
Despite failing health in the past few months Lahiff was developing with Leake two films in the film noir trilogy started by Swerve, and with Nowra a biopic of General Sir John Monash, Australia's military commander in WW1.
Lahiff is survived by Sean and Daland.