Encounter with history
TONY Foster was one of the first people to cross the Berlin Wall when it came down in 1989 and he didn’t even realise it at the time.
The Mt Eden film-maker was a first-hand witness to one of modern history’s most famous events while travelling through Europe.
He is sharing his story with Aucklanders through the Documentary Edge Festival this month.
Travelling back to Germany to make his documentary was a surreal and emotional experience.
A huge crowd awaited him as he crossed Checkpoint Charlie into West Germany.
‘‘As we walked towards them they all started whistling and cheering and clapping,’’ he says.
‘‘There were TV cameras and I remember thinking: What’s going on? I found an Australian camera man and asked if anyone had come through before us. He said: ‘No you were the first’.’’
Twenty years on from that accidental act, Foster felt the time was right to tell his story, literally ‘‘sinking every penny I own’’ into the project.
‘‘At the time it felt very strange. I knew it was significant but there was a pinch-point on the train the next day.
‘‘At one point the emotion of it all just overwhelmed me and I got a huge lump in my throat. I suddenly realised tears were streaming down my face. It had never occurred to me to make [a film] out of a story from my own life,’’ he says.
Foster started out as a theatre director at 21 and moved into film nine years later. Most of his work had been as an assistant director on other people’s projects.
Now the feature-length film Accidental Berliner is a chance to show his own work, in the Documentary Edge Festival which runs from May 20 to June 1.
The chance stumble into a significant moment in history has had an everlasting impact on Foster.
Making the film was an opportunity to share his story but also explore why it had such a large impact on his life.
‘‘I realised that in a way I couldn’t have told the story 10 or 15 years ago,’’ he says.
‘‘There’s something about the process of the impact it had on me and trying to comprehend that. Somehow I needed time before I could get to it in this way.’’
Talking to friends he made throughout Germany, Foster threads a story of chance and ‘‘a completely bloodless revolution’’.
‘‘It can be done,’’ he says. ‘‘That’s one thing I would like the film to say.’’
A Japanese woman on the night Checkpoint Charlie opened with a local paper that reads: Berlin is once again Berlin.
Accidental Berliner Tony Foster.