Five Kiwi films with a music focus

Marc Chesterman earned his chops drumming with alternative rock bands like Lushburger and Sudersuk in the early 90s. He later transitioned to sound engineering and design, meeting German-born director Florian Habicht at Elam.

The two have since worked on numerous films, with Marc composing soundtracks and scores, including Habicht’s surrealist fairy-tale Woodenhead (2003), Kaikohe Demolition (2004), Rubbings from a Live Man (2008), and Land of the Long White Cloud (2009).

Here are Marc’s top five films which make music their central element:

Don’t Let It Get You

One of the few NZ films made in the 1960s, and it’s also a musical. Slapstick funny and with great songs throughout, it’s a must see, though you’ll have to visit your local film archive to do so. Well worth the effort as it features a young Sir Howard Morrison, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, and pop music stars of the day. A very influential film for me.


I made the music for this film released in 2003. It’s a Brothers Grimm-style musical fairy tale. Woodenhead capitalises on the delays and off-beats between image and sound, having an entirely pre-recorded soundtrack. Sound, music, and dialogue were recorded before the film was shot. The actors then performed to the soundtrack. Madness! What follows is a slightly altered-state romp through the hills and beaches of northern New Zealand. A new colourised version of the film played in the 2021 NZIFF.


A documentary about the life and times of vocalist Pixie Williams. Pixie sung on the 1949 #1 hit song Blue Smoke, she also sung on numerous other recordings around this time. The song Blue Smoke was written by Ruru Karaitiana, while aboard a troop ship during WWII. This iconic song was the first release to be fully composed, recorded, and pressed in Aotearoa New Zealand. So its history is really interesting.

Poi E: The Story of Our Song

Thirty-five years after Blue Smoke, New Zealand artists continued to produce incredible music. Getting a Te Reo Māori disco tune out to the public via TV or popular radio stations was a massive barrier to break through. No Youtube or Spotify then!  But Dalvanius Prime and the Patea Māori Club were unstoppable, going to #1 and staying in the charts for 34 weeks. We now call this waiata our unofficial national anthem.

Valley of the Stereos

A short comedy, shot on 35mm film on the Kāpiti Coast in the early 90s. It was made by many of Sir Peter Jackson’s early collaborators, combining live action, animation, and scale models. There’s plenty of laughs, no dialogue, and no computer VFX either. It’s a must for budding sound recordists, and brings new meaning to “turning it up to 11”.

The soundtrack for Woodenhead is being released on vinyl with a 12” EP of brand-new, reimagined works and bonus digital tracks.

New artwork and photography created by director Florian Habicht and production designer and artist Teresa Peters will also be included. The vinyl run is estimated to be available around February/March.


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