In 2012 New Zealand film director Florian Habicht screened his acclaimed movie Love Story at the London International Film Festival. Prior to the screening, he sent an email to Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker inviting him to attend. Taken by the film, Jarvis met up with Florian and the groundwork was laid for a collaborative documentary film project Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets. Essentially an impressionistic document of a day and night in Sheffield, Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets takes us on a journey through the streets of Pulp’s hometown and a concert billed as the UK pop rock icon’s last ever. We meet the members of Pulp, fans (both local and from abroad) and get a sense for not just how Pulp’s music was informed by that storied town, but how in the year’s since, Pulp’s music and legacy has informed the tone of the town itself. Touchingly beautiful, it’s one of the best music documentaries I’ve seen in recent years.
In celebration of it’s inclusion in the 2014 edition of The New Zealand International Film Festival, I spoke with Florian one Saturday morning early in July. Friendly and positive, he regaled me with stories behind the filming process, detailed his fondness for human connection, and gave me a window into how he developed his unique style and framing. In a lot of ways, the most remarkable thing about Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets is how relaxed and genuine the idiosyncratic characters Florian filled the documentary with are on screen. I was especially curious as to how Florian accomplished this so consistently. As it turns out, the answer dates back to just after he graduated from the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts in the early 2000s. Fitting, it also relates back to the exact moment where he realised he needed to elevate himself from amateur film-maker to professional.
Florian Habicht: When I had just finished art school, I started working as a wedding photographer to support my film-making. You could work one day a week and it paid alright. I guess something I really learned from doing weddings is this: You’re photographing all these people you’ve never met before on this special day. You don’t want them looking stiff or uncomfortable in the photographs, because that is the worst. Getting people to relax and open up, I wasn’t conscious of it, but I think that was maybe where I really first started being able to do that. I guess it’s just not freaking them out with a lot of gear, or being a bit of a fool yourself, or a bit of a clown. What people liked about my wedding photos is that the people always looked super relaxed, or like they were having a lot of fun.
I’ll actually tell you why I quit wedding photography. The last wedding I photographed was a long time ago now. It was a church wedding and it was a big wedding with a lot of people. There were over a hundred people there. There was a lot of money, but I didn’t feel much love. Everyone was stressed. People weren’t really enjoying themselves. I was at the front taking photos. When the bride and groom kissed, the kiss had no love or anything. So as a photographer I asked the couple to repeat the kiss. Everyone in the church laughed. It was funny. The photographer asking them to do it again. They kissed each other again, and again, it was the most pathetic kiss I’ve seen in my life. These are people who are going to spend their lives together. They’ve just gotten married in front of all their friends. Again, it was such a pathetic kiss. I said something like, can you do it one more time? And put a bit more love into it? It was like a bomb had dropped. Everyone in the church just went silent and looked at me. Then I knew what I had done was wrong. I knew I had stepped over the line. I guess I’d taken my directing impulse and tried to apply it to their wedding. I wanted a really good photo. I wanted a couple kissing who were in love with each other. That is when I told myself. Okay Florian. No more weddings for you. You’re just going to do films from now on.
Regional New Zealand details on NZIFF screenings for Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets are available via the NZIFF website – www.nziff.co.nz