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Kaikohe Demolition

A new documentary by intrepid New Zealand filmmaker Florian Habicht captures the gracefulness and poetry of demolition derbies.

Kaikohe Demolition, New Zealand, 2004

Director/producer: Florian Habicht
Production co: Pictures For Anna
Photography/editors: Florian Habicht, Christopher Pryor
Sound: Jeffrey Holdaway
Original music: Marc Chesterman, The Boxcar Guitars

With: Ben Haretuku, John ‘Derby King’ Zielinski, Carmen Zielinski, ‘Hit Man’ Uncle Bimm

DV (originally Digital Betacam), colour, sound, 52 minutes, PG—Contains low level offensive language

“Kaikohe made world news in 1991 when children there attacked Santa in the Christmas parade. It’s not an easy image to dislodge, one of the locals admits ruefully, but if anything can do the trick it is Florian Habicht’s empathetic, funny account of small-town life on the poverty line, as told by those living it. The only violence in this Kaikohe occurs at Demolition Derbys, which seem to coincide with every festive date on the calendar, including Mother’s Day. It’s no surprise that Habicht, who made a ‘dump hand’ the hero of last year’s Woodenhead, can find the flamboyance and poetry in the spectacle of mobilised car-wreckage (he mostly spares us the noise). But what’s most arresting about his film is his easy intimacy with the drivers. ‘Putting a little more tread in the tyres’ with a chainsaw, for example, they explain their sport, regale us with their exploits, and finally, relaxing in a hot mineral pool after a hard day at the track, speak with candour, laughter and amazing grace about life in general.” — Bill Gosden, New Zealand Film Festival

“A new documentary by intrepid New Zealand filmmaker Florian Habicht captures the gracefulness and poetry of demolition derbies. Ah, yes: there is a harsh, strangely lyrical beauty to be found at the speedway: the mangling impacts and hoicking engines; the expert hoons clustered 'round raised hoods; the lone girl standing at a wire mesh fence, solemnly licking an ice cream as she watches the carnage in the mud. Such is the beauty of Florian Habicht's documentary, Kaikohe Demolition. A small, economically sluggish far-north town, Kaikohe drew worldwide attention in 1991 when a group of kids beat up Santa at the Christmas parade. But Habicht reveals a hardy, warm-hearted community, united by a passion for chaotic, thirty-car demolition smash-ups. Touchingly, there's also a shot of Santa being merrily welcomed by a gaggle of young children, suggesting past differences have been patched up. The derbies are held to coincide with pretty much any festive date, including Mothers' Day and Christmas. Habicht, who grew up in the nearby town of Kerikeri, befriended a group of derby drivers and their extended families for the documentary, which took an epic three years to make. He first came across one of the central figures of Kaikohe Demolition, one John Zielinksi, a nuggety, formidable master of the local track, on the front page of a local newspaper. ‘He was like standing like on the roof of a car in some kind of pose or full-on salute.’ Was Habicht tempted to grab a camera and go along for a ride in one of the derbies? It seems a logical first step, Tearaway reckons. He hoots with laughter. ‘Oh, man. If I wasn't such a scaredy cat, such a paranoid freak – I'd probably be more paranoid about wrecking my camera than myself. But I did get lots of offers [to race], people saying '”C'mon, ride with us!” And I always sort of chickened out last minute.’ Safely trackside Habicht was able to capture many intimate, funny moments with the drivers, who typically unwound after a hard day's racing with a lengthy soak in Kaikohe's hot mineral pools. And he also picked up some highly useful demolition pointers, such as how to use a chainsaw to add more tread to your tires; in addition, ramming boot-first is best (less likely to damage the precious radiator, eh). ‘I like that it [the documentary] doesn't have a narrator telling you what to think,’ Florian says. ‘It lets the people up North talk for themselves.’ Doin' it for love! As is typical of many New Zealand films, Habicht produced the documentary on a tiny budget and with very limited resources. ‘Most of the film has been a real small team – for half the scenes it was just me and no-one else. For other scenes there was Chris Pryor doing filming as well and sometimes I had Jeffrey Holdaway on sound.’ When Habicht finally showed the finished documentary to the Kaikohe locals, he says, ‘you wouldn't believe it, how stoked they were.’” – “Beautiful Collisions”, Neil Young, Tearaway Magazine

Screenings: Kaikohe Demolition screened in a double-bill with Forgotten Silver on 31 May 2005 in a season selected by film maker and x-Archive staff member Rupert Reynolds-McLean.