Trailblazing film-maker Merata Mita collapsed and died yesterday while at Maori Television to discuss a documentary.

Friends say her loss is a huge blow to the industry.

Mita was one of the first Maori to direct a feature film, Mauri in 1988, but her imprint is spread wide across the cinematic spectrum.

Most recently, she helped to produce Boy, Taika Waititi's hit film.

Broadcaster Joanna Paul was devastated by the loss. She told the Herald she met her friend 30 years ago on her first day of work on a TVNZ drama about Maori protesters.

"Even at the time she was this iconic, charismatic figure," Paul said. "She was working on her film about Takaparawha [Bastion Pt] and trying to hide her footage from the cop raids that happened at her post-production suite all the time. You couldn't help but be attracted to her.

"A lot of people owe her their careers, really. She is an icon and a massive loss."

That series mirrored two of Mita's major projects, Patu!, which followed the turbulence and violence of police and protester clashes during the 1981 Springbok tour, and Bastion Point: Day 507, about the 1978 eviction of Ngati Whatua from their ancestral land.

At the heart of Mita's work was the push to tell Maori stories in an authentic way. However, working at Koha, the forerunner to Te Karere, in 1980 was a role many refused to see as legitimate.

In the book Film in Aotearoa New Zealand, Mita said news bosses told staff that te reo could constitute only 2 per cent of the language used to tell Maori stories. The stories also had to be directed at the "majority viewing audience" - which she took to mean Pakeha.

"We had made it through the sacred portals for TV but our status was not better than that of honorary whites. My tenure there was often bitter and demoralising," Mita wrote.

Rhonda Kite, who has been working with the film-maker and author Patricia Grace on a screen adaptation of Grace's novel Cousins for the past seven years, said Mita was a formidable woman.

"She didn't suffer fools. She had that sense of who she was and what she stood for that needed no explanation as far as she was concerned."

Director Hinewehi Mohi, said that edge was lined with a wicked sense of humour and the "giggle of a teenager".

Mita, born in the Bay of Plenty village of Maketu, was a companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Her former partner was film industry heavyweight Geoff Murphy.

Thought to be in her 60s, Mita is survived by six children, as well as her grandchildren.