Florian Habicht is a New Zealand filmmaker living in the East Village. For his feature film, Woodenhead, Florian recorded all the sound first (everything from the actors voices to background noise) and shot the film after. I know "dreamlike" is the biggest cliche in film-writing, but the effect this technique creates is so uncannily similar to the sort of cloudy, staggered speech you get in REM sleep there's really no other way to describe it.
Florian says when he decided to shoot the film that way, he was acting on explicit instructions from Milli Vanilli, who visited him in a dream. That shooting style is becoming something of a theme in Florian's work, and Liebestraume, featured below, was shot in the same way.
Florian is the recent recipient of the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency, meaning he has an all expenses paid year to bum around the East Village doing whatever the hell he wants. If it was us, we'd be posted up at the bar for 12 months, but Florian is actually working. He recently had a show at P.P.O.W. Gallery in Chelsea with Teresa Peters, his girlfriend, fellow artist, and frequent collaborator, and is working on two new scripts. We met up with Florian to talk about his work.
Vice: A lot of your films seem to have strange, sometimes disturbing images paired with a soothing or lighthearted overall feel. Do you see that contrast in your work?
That's true. I think it sums up my personality. And if people can't see that humor in my work, then they might read it as being pretentious or contrived. Well, actually, I guess it is contrived. I love mixing contrived situations with real people. Liebestraume is an example of that.
What's the reason behind combining those two things that evoke such different feelings in the audience?
If I'm going to show something disturbing or perverted, I want to show the beauty in it. With Liebestraume and Woodenhead, those elements are presented in an innocent, child like way. That's just my sense of humor.
What's the story behind Liebestraume?
I fancied a girl at art school and wasn't sure how I could befriend her, so I asked her if she wanted to be in a film, and then wrote the script/scenarios after she said "maybe." She ended up agreeing, and we are now together. She plays Donna in the film, and my father, Frank, plays Bruce. I liked shooting the love scene with the two. I like working with people I'm close to.
How come there's a chicken in that shower scene? Are there a lot of chickens in New Zealand?
There are approximately 20,000 chickens in New Zealand.
That's a lot of poultry.
Haha, yeah, Andrew McLeod, who plays the shy paperboy, couldn't find anyone to look after his pet, so he brought it with him to the shoot. I shot the film myself on a wind up Bollex 16mm camera in 1997 and can still remember having to jump into a dark cupboard every 20 minutes to change the film!
It seems like there are a few different themes in Angel Blessing a Rugby Team. The team runs out of the woods and are blessed with white powder in a cleared lot by an old man in a bulldozer. Do you consciously use a lot of symbolism in your work, or do you let the audience create their own symbolism out of it? Because I've got a few really weird ideas as to what you were saying with that but I'm not at all sure any of them are right.
It's funny, some people think the white powder is cocaine, some think its flour…I like to make things and analyze them afterward, and people are invited to come up with their own interpretations. So what's yours?
I was thinking of it as some sort of statement on forest conservation. What with all the guys running out of a forest into a cleared lot with a bulldozer, being "blessed," and running back into the forest.
For me the scene is about a gay man who was forced to play rugby as a child and hated it. Now he is living the life he wants to live, feeling in control and blessing the beautiful players in their different shapes and sizes.
Yeah, that makes more sense. I'll be honest, I'm not too familiar with the New Zealand film industry outside of Flight of the Conchords. What's it like and how does it differ from what we have in the states?
There are a huge amount of films that get made under the radar in New Zealand. Lots of shorts and low budget features. And then there's the official "industry" which differs from the states in that it's government funded. So films don't have to be as commercial as studio pictures here. I think Peter Jackson is our exception. Most of my films have been funded by the local arts council "Creative New Zealand," and the New Zealand Film Commission. So I'm guessing it's harder to get films made in the states with a decent budget.
You've been compared to David Lynch. Do you think that's an apt comparison?
I really don't like being compared to David Lynch. I think our films are very different. As far as I can tell, the likeness ends at the title similarities between Woodenhead and Eraserhead. Also, both are black and white.
So, you were the recipient of the Harriet Friedlander New York Residency huh? What's that and what are you going to do while you're here?
I'm very lucky. I'm able to live here for a year with expenses paid, and do whatever I want. The purpose of the residency is for a young New Zealand artist to be inspired by NYC and bring new ideas back home. That's what I'm doing, writing two new fiction based scripts. Teresa and I are living in the East Village which we love. Harriet was a New Zealand arts supporter and benefactor who loved NYC, and it was her dream to set up the residency before she passed away. The residency is managed by the New Zealand Arts Foundation.
Was it a real pain in the ass to record the sound for a film first and then shoot the footage to match afterward?
Yes, it was a pain, it was like making two separate films actually--a sound film, and then a visual one. It had to be done though! I had this dream, two angels visited me in the middle of the night on a rugby field. They were Rastafarian angels, spotlighted by the stadium lights. I soon recognized them as Milli Vanilli.
Um, OK. What did they say to you?
The two Angels confessed they didn't sing the songs on their album. I already knew that. Next, they told me that I should pre-record the entire soundtrack for my next film. All the dialogue, location sounds, and music. I took their advice, and made a radio play fairytale, quite sweet and innocent. Then went with a team of completely different visual performers into New Zealand's far north, and shot the black and white (more dark and perverse) visuals, deliberately playing with sync. The main characters in Woodenhead, Plum and Gert, speak without even moving their mouths.
INTERVIEW BY JONATHAN SMITH