How Stories Find Him, What He's Seen Lately, and His New Rescue Dawn

Film & Video‘s Debra Kaufman caught up with director Werner Herzog a few minutes before he was scheduled to accept the Vision award from the Filmmakers Alliance ( He had just returned from Germany. Briefly detained by Homeland Security, Herzog has a new classification to enter the country: “alien with extraordinary abilities.”
F&V: The Vision award you’re about to receive from the Filmmakers Alliance is a great honor ‘ what does it mean to you?

HERZOG: I have no idea what it is. You’ll have to ask those ‘ I am trying to investigate who are these people. I know very little. I was not able to return to the U.S. until just a few minutes ago when I was admitted back to the States.

I know we are going to see some short films tonight and you’ve made shorts in your career. What can you say about what makes the short film a unique genre?

It’s like a short story, a very short story in literature. It has its reasons sometimes and its place. At the time I started making films, there was a culture of short films. You would go to see a feature film, and theatres would show featurettes that were somehow qualified or had some sort of awards. So that created a culture of short films. Many people at that time started off with short films, like Polanski and Scorsese and me and many others.

The genre still lives ….

Yes, but at that time, it had a very specific place in the culture of movie theatres.

Tell me a little about Rescue Dawn, which is coming out…

I don’t know when it is coming out, but we are probably showing it at the Toronto International Film Festival.

I’ve read on IMDb, which is notorious for incorrect information, that Rescue Dawn is a remake of Little Dieter Wants to Fly.

What is IMDB?

The Internet Movie Database.

Uh-huh. I have no idea what that is. No, no, it is not a remake of Little Dieter. It is a similar story – it’s just two stories about basically the same person.

What drew you to this story – what draws you to your material?

I have no idea. I know what’s a good story.

So you come across stories in different ways ….

They come across me. I don’t come across them. They stumble into me.

What do you think of some of the new media distribution platforms popping up?

What is this?

Like entertainment on mobile phones.

I have no mobile phone. I don’t know what they do, apart of making phone calls. What do you do with them?

There’s a lot of entertainment now that’s being produced for distribution on mobile phones ….

If it is entertaining, so be it.

Do you use digital cameras?

No, I am still working with celluloid because celluloid is so much superior in quality.

Are you interested at all in testing out the new high-resolution digital cameras?

If they become better than celluloid, then yes.

I know you just became a voting member of the Academy ….

Yeah, well, I don’t know how that happened, but I was invited and I accepted.

Are you planning on wreaking havoc?

Oh no. What sort of havoc should I wreak?

What do you hope your role to be in the Academy?

I hope to see movies.

Have you see any movies recently-

No, I have only seen two movies in the last 12 months.

What movies did you see?

One was King Kong. Then one was a film about spring break of college kids in Cancun, Mexico [The Real Cancun] and the only point of the story was who was getting laid first. The film was a disaster at the box office so nobody has seen it.

It doesn’t sound like you’ve seen much to make you optimistic about the future of cinema.

Oh I am very hopeful about cinema because there are very, very fine films. Especially in Asia and Iran. There are some very good films here, so I don’t worry.

Grizzly Man – why didn’t that get nominated for an Academy award?

You will have to ask them. It couldn’t be nominated because it wasn’t included among the films from which you can draw a nomination. So it wasn’t included. What, should I spend a sleepless night [worrying whether] you get a nomination or not? It doesn’t make the film better or worse.

You know that when Discovery Channel aired it, they created their own documentary to go along with it.

Yes, I know. Well, they made a three-hour special and included some other footage, but it was not very clear where my film ended and their additional footage came into it. That was not a very clear definition of the film, but so what?