We’re going to the moon
But sometimes things arrive from utterly unexpected sources! Suddenly, from a place I cannot reveal, I found myself with access to sufficient funds to go to Berlin – and only 3 weeks to organise it all! But all depended on my good friend and colleague, cinematographer/editor Davorin Fahn. I phoned, and arranged to visit him. “Your lucky day”, he told me; “I just today decided not to proceed with my own solo doco project, my subject is not charismatic enough to hang a film on… I must be back for another job in mid-late November, but I can give you those exact two weeks… And you can have all my sound and camera (brand new Hi-def cinema quality digital video), and my edit suite, and my labour – all for free, as long as you can pay for my travel, accommodation, food and expenses.” A quick mental calculation – “Yes, I can do that.” We were on our way!
It was extraordinary how things fell into place so easily as we planned our trip – how we were able to extend the initial three day shoot into eight days, how cinematographer Davorin’s travel agent wife Vesna found us a bargain airfare deal, and also got us an extra baggage allowance to enable us to take all the camera gear for free, the timing of both long-haul flights overnight to help with sleeping, and so on.
A major point for me was discovering only days before leaving NZ that the Kiwi friend Martin I’d been visiting for those three days in 1989, whom I’d lost touch with some years ago, and who was rumoured to be now living in an other European country, had in fact returned to live in Berlin. As had two other people I wanted to track down for our film!
Then a property speculator friend stunned me with an email: “Clearly the universe wants you to succeed, so go for it!”
We arrived in Berlin the day before to prepare for the celebrations on Nov 9, with my “ex” from a decade earlier taking a week off from her law work in Munich (600 kms away) to join us as a volunteer helper. Having a native speaker with us was a real bonus.
I’d been curious as to how I’d feel when I first saw Checkpoint Charlie again – knowing it had changed hugely since I was last there. I’d thought the tube station exit was a couple of blocks away, and so I was completely unprepared for the emotional jolt that hit me when I came out of the underground and found I was right there – I had to grab hold of Davorin’s shoulder for a moment for support! “I know”, he said. “I can feel it too.” I knew then for sure (as if I’d ever doubted it!) that Davorin, who grew up in communist Croatia and migrated to NZ 16 years ago in the afternath of the war in his homeland, was an utterly essential component of this movie.
Apart from some hassles with rain, the anniversary shooting went extremely well. We struck gold in many accidental moments that night, and also in the following days – such as when filming at Checkpoint Charlie, meeting and interviewing a veteran US soldier who’d helped escapees from the East into the West nearby in 1964-66.
In the following days, Davorin convinced me of the need to shoot vast amounts of seemingly superfluous visuals, which actually gave me the time to really “rediscover” Berlin – and this in turn prompted many spontaneous moments, caught in pieces-to-camera.
For Davorin and me, adjusting to our new working relationship involved a few minor “moments”, but overall was surprisingly easy. But talk about a steep learning curve! Learning to direct a doco “on-the-job” seemed a vast distance from directing live theatre or running a drama crew as the First Assistant Director. Thank Goodness for Davorin’s vast experience, as a doco-maker in his own right, cinematographer and editor. But of one thing I was never in doubt – starting to make this film this was absolutely and utterly the Best Thing in the World I could possibly be doing!