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Werner Herzog pays tribute to creativity in film industry at Frontiers of Thought

Movie maker presented unpublished works and stressed importance of independent actions

30/09/2019 - 09h07
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Photo: Luiz Munhoz

“If you can’t understand a man’s heart, you can’t be a filmmaker.” With these and other catchphrases, Werner Herzog delighted the crowd that filled the Commencement Hall of UFRGS in the evening of Monday, Sept 23, as he presented some of his creations in his decade-long career as a moviemaker. A native of Germany, Herzog is known for making movies on his own. He graced the audience with excerpts of fresh unpublished material and focused on the experience of viewers, from aesthetics to soundtrack feelings. “I try to create a conspiracy between viewers and what’s on the screen”, he said. The filmmaker was the sixth guest of the 2019 season of the Frontiers of Thought, an event that receives cultural support from PUCRS. This year’s theme is Senses of Life.

Herzog’s working methods are unique and he will make them clear to his audiences. In a recent production, he got drone shots in an Australian desert where a meteorite fell thousands of years ago. This is something that delights him, as it takes him to the mysteries of life. “Meteorites prove that outside the universe there are forms that should not exist. These forms are over 3.8 billion years old. In making the film, I follow my fantasy”, he commented as he highlighted the existence of the near crystals, which are mysterious forms he has been studying.

Everything that has to do with cinema brings me nothing but joy. For me, all elements come in unison. I see the whole movie, as if it were already on the screen

Although his productions feature actors known as Nicolas Cage, who starred in the movie Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009), and Christian Bale, who starred in The Survivor (2006), Herzog is emphatic in discussing his independence from US film industry. “I’m a good storyteller. I tell stories better than Hollywood does. It is great at special effects, but not at storytelling. I don’t need Hollywood, nor does Hollywood need me“, he said, as the audience burst out laughing.

When he was asked about his creative process, he claimed that there is no clear formula. He dismisses the use of storyboards (graphic construction system, with frame-by-frame drawings of the images to be filmed). “This is something for older people, people who do not trust themselves. It’s a tool for cowards“, he emphasized. Herzog is also critical of directors who spend hours on end working on the recordings and years editing their movies. He makes a suggestion: “The market out there will not give you funding for more than one year”. This points to the need for shorter movies and faster editing.

You need to read a lot, a lot. Otherwise, they will be mediocre filmmakers.

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Photo: Luiz Munhoz

One of his films, Fitzcarraldo (1982), was set in the Peruvian Amazon. The topics addressed in the movie has been hotly debated internationally and drove the audience to ask the German filmmaker a number of questions. “In a global perspective, this is part of a bigger catastrophe associated with consumerism and with self-destruction. Western Europe got rid of all its forests to make room for cattle. Therefore, we must be careful in adopting an imperialist attitude in saying what Brazil should do. The effects are also felt in other countries, such as Bolivia, for example.” He urges young people not to expect changes from politicians, but to act on their own behalf in view of what they want.

About him

With films and documentaries such as Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu, and The Bearman, Herzog is a director that portrays mysticism, the unknown, and tragedy in the world. Relying on an authentic and controversial approach, he has become known all over the world for writing, directing and producing his own low-budget films, often in harsh settings.

He has won a number of awards such as the Cannes Film Festival, the Bafta and the Golden Globe. He has studied History, Literature and Music at Munich and the University of Pittsburgh. He produced his first film in 1961 at the age of 19, and has produced over 60 movies.