Encounters at the End of the World
“Few filmmakers make the end of days seem as hauntingly beautiful as Werner Herzog does, or as inexorable.... Encounters at the End of the World has the quality of a dream: it’s at once vivid and vague, easy to grasp and somehow beyond reach."
—Manohla Dargis, The New York Times
“Alternates between spellbinding views of the landscape’s white and blue expanses, conversations with scientists, and interviews with McMurdo’s denizens. Runs the gamut from existential meditation to comedy; indeed, it is perhaps Herzog's funniest film.”
—Sven Lütticken, ArtForum
“The film’s visuals are a wonder to behold. Stunning footage (of) a violent, hermetic world under the ice, populated by myriad strange life-forms.”
Unfiction is a series of documentary films that turn truth into something other than fact, using poetry and imagination, rather than transparency and objectivity. These filmmakers question the very notion of authenticity, and disobey the typical documentary filmmaking practices; instead they stage their own realities on location, employing techniques such as reenactment, personal voice-overs and special effects.
A study of the sublime and the absurd at the southernmost point of the planet, Encouters at the End of the World is Werner Herzog’s most recent documentary, commissioned by the National Science Foundation. From the outset Herzog proclaims that it is “not a film about fluffy penguins”; instead the film examines the psychology of the scientists and technicians who have chosen to live and work in this formidable landscape.
Werner Herzog (real name Werner H. Stipetic) was born in Munich on September 5, 1942. He grew up in a remote mountain village in Bavaria and never saw any films, television, or telephones as a child. Since the age of 19 he has produced, written, and directed more than 40 films, published more than a dozen books of prose, and directed as many operas.
Associated with the German New Wave Movement, Herzog's films blur the distinctions between documentary and narrative practice through Herzog’s direct intervention into the context he is filming in order to extract what he has called the "ecstatic truth" of a situation. Please see Herzog's "Minnesota Declaration" reproduced here which was published on the occasion of his 1999 retrospective at the Walker Art Center.
Werner Herzog “Minnesota Declaration” / Truth and fact in documentary cinema
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April 30, 1999
LESSONS OF DARKNESS
- By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.
- One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. “For me,” he says, “there should be only one single law; the bad guys should go to jail.” Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.
- Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.
- Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.
- There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.
- Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures of ancient ruins of facts.
- Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.
- Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: “You can’t legislate stupidity.”
- The gauntlet is herby thrown down.
- The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn’t call, doesn’t speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don’t you listen to the Song of Life.
- We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.
- Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of hell that during evolution some species—including man—crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.