Werner Herzog is one of the last decade's most important auteurs. He pursues his singular vision of film and the search for what he calls "ecstatic truth" with unrivalled forcefulness and pays no heed to the rules or boundaries of conventional cinema or the political zeitgeist. Despite this or precisely because of it, Herzog is an international superstar, while Germany reduced him for a long time to his early features with Klaus Kinski. This now appears to be slowly changing: over the last few years, several of his films have received a German cinema release, while current publications also prove that he has moved back into the focus of attention (e.g. Chris Wahl, (Ed.) Lektionen in Herzog, 2011; Moritz Holfelder: Werner Herzog. Die Biografie, 2012). The Deutsche Kinemathek and the Einstein Forum, Potsdam are organizing a symposium on October 26 2012 to examine Herzog's current oeuvre. The focus is on his innovative use of fictional and documentary forms of narration, his treatment of science and myth as well as his self-portrayal as a Bavarii rebel and subtle sense of humor. The staging of animals in his films will be explored as well as the reception of his work from a media arts perspective. With Valérie Carré (Strasbourg), Paul Cronin (New York), Christoph Hochhäusler (Berlin), Daniel Kothenschulte (Cologne), Sabine Nessel (Berlin) and Chris Wahl (Potsdam).
A selection of Herzog's more recent documentaries which have not yet received a regular German cinema release will be shown as part of the symposium. The four-part television documentary DEATH ROW (USA 2012, 21. & 22.10.) will be shown over two evenings. For these cinematic portraits, Herzog spoke to convicted murders on death row as well as their relatives and those of their victims. Despite Herzog formulating his position with suitable clarity at the beginning of every episode – "I respectfully disagree with the practice of capital punishment" – he is less interested in following a political agenda then creating a report about the people in the cells on death row, their experiences, memories and dreams. Herzog succeeds in setting up an authentic encounter with people subject to their darkest transgressions, in which he shows far greater restraint than in many of his earlier documentary films.
The multi-award winning GRIZZLY MAN (USA 2005, 23.10.) led to Herzog being rediscovered in many different countries, yet failed to find distribution in Germany and was largely ignored. The hero of the film, “Grizzly Man” Timothy Treadwell, spent 13 summers in Katmai National Park, Alaska and lived there together with the grizzly bears. It was the various boundaries between man and nature that he crossed in the process that led to his shocking death: he and his girlfriend were killed by a bear. Video camera footage shot by Treadwell of himself and the bears is juxtaposed with statements from acquaintances, friends and critics and thus creates a contradictory picture of this idealist, who also rubs Herzog up the wrong way: he approaches Treadwell in sympathetic fashion, respects him as a filmmaker, yet ultimately shows no understanding for his glorification of nature.
In the Oscar-nominated documentary ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (USA 2007, 24.10.) Herzog creates a portrait of a small group of people who live and work in extreme conditions, cut off from the outside world: researchers and scientists in the Antarctic, or "professional dreamers", as one of the interviewees in the film refers to them. Spectacular images of the beauty of the arctic landscape, people whose views of the world that goes beyond standard categories of thought, a "suicidal" penguin who runs unceasingly towards his own demise – a true Herzog film. (Julia Pattis)