Werner Herzog, director

"I know how to deal with pressure – throw anything at me and I'll deal with it."
January 1, 2011

In realscreen‘s profile of Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, we said that the legendary filmmaker was practically the personification of unflappable. If Merriam-Webster were to decide to affix his photo to any other words in the dictionary, we’d also recommend ‘risk taker.’

Over his illustrious five-decade career in film, he’s cheated death (repeatedly during the filming of Fitzcarraldo) and through both his fiction work and his documentaries, has inspired nothing short of awe from fellow filmmakers (such as friend Errol Morris) and critics (Time Magazine deemed him “too risky for Hollywood” in 2007). But Herzog seems to regard risk as a part of the job. “I know how to deal with pressure – throw anything at me and I’ll deal with it,” he told us after the premiere of Cave, at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

The film, an examination of the Chauvet Caves in France which feature the earliest cave paintings known to man, generated extra buzz prior to its premiere at TIFF for being the first major 3D documentary. Typically, the filming itself was fraught with risk, what with the fragile nature of the paintings resulting in very little opportunity to film them and the McGyver-esque skills of the crew aiding in converting bulky equipment into somewhat portable 3D rigs on the fly. But the suspense behind the project lasted all the way to close to the end of its TIFF debut, when the projector quit minutes from the epilogue.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Herzog told realscreen the day after the screening. “If the projector hadn’t restarted I would’ve stepped up in front and told the audience the rest of the movie.” Perhaps his unflappable nature is the product of the numerous bumps and scrapes experienced over the course of his career, but it’s more likely that he, as Time’s Richard Corliss put it, thrives on working in an atmosphere of “inspiring recklessness.”

Herzog also seems to thrive on being busy, and confounding expectations. Besides Cave, he wrote the commentary for and narrated Dmitry Yasyukov’s Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, and did voice work for Plastic Bag, an 18-minute short by Ramin Bahrani.

In search of what he calls “the ecstatic truth,” he controversially eschews what he calls the limitations of verite, calling it “a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.”

“You can be as bold as it gets and if you want to carry me out with a straitjacket at the end…that’s why we love cinema,” he offers.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.