A Doco and a DSLR

IMG: Davorin Fahn shooting in Berlin's ReichstagPhoto: Peet Dowrick

IMG: Davorin Fahn shooting in Berlin’s Reichstag
Photo: Peet Dowrick

In 2009 some young German doco-making friends of mine, working in Auckland as interns for the DOC NZ Trust, suggested I should make a film out of my experience of being caught up in the crowds at Checkpoint Charlie on the night the Berlin Wall fell, 9 November 1989. The 20th anniversary of that extraordinary event was rapidly approaching.

By early October the idea had taken root and would not let go. My work as a first assistant director, plus a little generosity from a parent, enabled me to pull together funds for a couple of days shooting the anniversary commemorations in Berlin. This was to be the first ever celebration of the Mauerfall since the Wall had fallen.

I approached a mate, a cinematographer with whom I’d worked many times for He Taonga Films and other Maori film companies, including on the first feature film shot totally in te reo Maori – Don Selwyn’s Te Tangata Whai Rawa o Weniti (The Maori Merchant of Venice).

Not only had Davorin Fahn and I formed a good friendship, for this project he had an extra qualification – he was born, raised, and had learned his craft in Croatia, part of the former communist Yugoslavia. Thus it was no surprise to me that he was keenly interested in my project.

My idea was to shoot for just the two days – the day before the anniversary, and the day of the anniversary itself, which was to culminate in a ceremonial knocking down of a “wall” made up of 2 km of polystyrene blocks, called “dominoes”. We would then return to New Zealand to put together a promo and seek further funding for a feature-length documentary.

Davorin’s wife Vesna commented that it was silly to go all that way just for two days of filming! She suggested we stay for the whole week.

Davorin had quite a lot of his own camera equipment but was particularly enamoured at that time of one camera, suited to hand-held work but also able to deliver “absolutely cinema quality images”. A big plus for me was that Davorin also had his own sound recording gear.

Other advantages of working with Davorin quickly emerged. Vesna is an award-winning travel agent, and was able to negotiate a higher than usual baggage allowance with Singapore Airlines – 30kg in the hold rather than then common 20kg.

We knew that hiring a car in Berlin would be hopeless, especially around the anniversary celebrations. Huge crowds were anticipated, and a vehicle would be of no use where we needed to go. Happily my German ex-girlfriend Gabi decided to come with us to Berlin for the celebrations, and was happy to help carry equipment. She also proved extremely handy as a translator for some of the on-the-street interviews we did, when my (pretty woeful) German proved inadequate.

20th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin WallPhoto: Tony Forster

November 2014: 25th anniversary celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: Tony Forster

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  1. Hi Tony and congratulations,
    Thrilled to hear you have got your project completed.I was doing a doco on the Maori Battalion in Germany in Nov 89 when the wall fell.It must have been amazing for you in Berlin then.Davorin and I did a doco together on Dalvanius and he was a pleasure to work with. Please pass on my regards to him.Best Wishes.Mike

    Mike O’Connor 2 years ago Reply