Born and brought up in England, Christopher relocated to Berlin in 1983 and has lived there ever since. After training as a camera assistant and cutting his teeth as a cameraman on news and current affairs while the Berlin Wall came down, he went on to shoot and produce documentaries and music videos in the heyday of the Berlin techno scene. Learn more about how his passion for image film-making evolved and what piece of work he considers his most important.
When did your passion for film start? What triggered your passion for film?
As a viewer – being fascinated by the surreal and powerful imagery of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God. I was a teenager when I discovered it by chance on British TV. It was the first time I realised that films are more than just traditional, Hollywood-style storytelling, that a film can also be poetic and move one emotionally.
As a practitioner – around the same time an uncle passed his Super 8 camera on to me. The opportunity to create little stories by joining moving images together really grabbed me. Looking back, it was the perfect combination of my two main interests – theatre and photography.
When did you realize that you wanted to be a DoP?
My interest had shifted from theatre to film-making while I studied Drama at Exeter University. The main reason was that a film-maker can control the audience’s point of view in a way the theatre director cannot. I moved to West Berlin in the 1980s intending to make films as a writer/director, but soon realised how specialised the various positions on a film set are. Because my main interest in film-making was the visual aspect, it quickly became clear that I should concentrate on cinematography.
Can you describe your first project? How did it go, and what would you do differently now?
An old friend from uni asked me to shoot a documentary on his family story – his father was from a Jewish family and had escaped from Germany to London just before the war. We had studied drama together, so we knew a bit about story-telling, and I had started a camera assistants training course, so I could handle the gear (just about). But we had no idea how to make a film and started shooting interviews and whatever else came to mind with borrowed equipment in a very improvised way. I also edited the film, and as an editor had to work around all the mistakes I had made as a cameraman. Would I do it differently today? In almost every respect! Would I want to? No! I learnt so much from that experience and all the mistakes we made, it was a great grounding for everything that followed. Even today I recommend aspiring cinematographers to edit their own work or at least sit through the edit for their first few films, it teaches you so much!
Which of your cases is your favorite? And why?
Die Kinder von Blankenese is a docudrama for German TV about a home for Jewish orphans in the post-war years, including flashbacks to the children’s traumatic experiences during WW2. The authentic script drawn from interviews with eyewitnesses, the moving performances by the child actors, a director with an amazing sense for the emotional heart of each scene and production design and costume departments that worked wonders on a limited budget formed a perfect combination of elements. All of that enabled me to create images that transported the audience into the horrifying world these children had experienced, and into their minds as they gradually came to terms with these experiences and their new situation. Watching the film today the shots are still as raw and emotional as when I first saw them through my viewfinder.
What is your biggest dream regarding your profession?
The Maha Kumbh Mela is an incredible Hindu festival that only takes place every 12 years. After shooting a documentary there and experiencing the vibrant, colourful, busy, quintessentially Indian atmosphere I wrote a treatment for a feature film that could be shot in semi-documentary style during the festival, but never found a partner with whom I could develop the idea. I would love to realise this project because it combines all the elements I most love about my profession: a strong, entertaining story, a fascinating, exotic setting, and a raw, spontaneous shooting style.