Florian Habicht’s debut feature film screened at NZIFF in 2003 and has become a cult classic. This new colourised print had its Aotearoa premiere in Wellington at NZIFF 2021.
Filmed in the lush forests and spartan hill country of Northland, Aotearoa New Zealand, Woodenhead conjures a unique, fairytale-like realm. Gert, an innocent rubbish-dump worker, is charged with the task of delivering Princess Plum, the ethereal daughter of his master Hugo, to her wedding in Maidenwood. Their journey through the grandeur of New Zealand’s landscape is beset with strange events. A beguiling hurdy-gurdy melody lures Gert and Plum from their path and – like Hansel and Gretel – they venture deeper and deeper into the forest, where an enchantment takes hold.
With composer and sound designer Marc Chesterman, Habicht pre-recorded the entire soundtrack before commencing shooting, only then inviting the actors to perform to the score. Like the overdubbing of foreign language films which has developed cult status, Woodenhead capitalises on the delays and off-beats between image and sound, offering surrealist ‘flaws’ that heighten psychological and narrative tension, reminiscent of silent films or the works of directors Guy Maddin, Béla Tarr and the Quay Brothers.
Quirky, elegant, and sexy, Woodenhead creates an imaginative world in which artfully measured explorations of humanity, nature and creativity take place – from the base and profane to the grand and sublime.
Woodenhead was filmed in Te Tai Tokerau, where Habicht and team went on to shoot Kaikohe Demolition (NZIFF 2004), Land of the Long White Cloud (NZIFF 2009), and last year’s hit James & Isey.
Originally screened in black and white, Habicht says production designer Teresa Peters and costume designer Georgie Hill designed the look of the film in colour, so this restoration is a return to the film's original palette.
Florian Habicht is a 2021 New Zealand Arts Foundation Laureate and the recipient of the Dame Gaylene Preston Award for Documentary Filmmakers.