Few film-makers can look back on a career as varied as German director Werner Herzog. Now 73, he had early arthouse hits such as Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970), Fata Morgana (1971) and Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972). He has since gone on to make some 70 features and documentaries, generally at the rate of one or two a year.
These include the epic Fitzcarraldo, in which a boat is dragged over a jungle range in the Amazon; Grizzly Man, about the deaths of two bear activists; and Bad Lieutenant, a violent police thriller.
Other films have examined capital punishment and death row (Into the Abyss), the earliest cave paintings (Cave of Forgotten Dreams) and the survival of a pilot shot down during the Vietnam War (Rescue Dawn).
His recent historical drama, Queen of the Desert (2015), starred Nicole Kidman as Gertrude Bell, who was an explorer in the Middle East at the same time as Lawrence of Arabia (reviewed in NZ Catholic’s July 10 issue).
Despite some big budget stars, it received a poor cinema release and Herzog explained in an interview that this was one of the risks in the business.
“There was a problem with distribution due to discord between the financier and producer so it is hobbling on to the market,” he said.
“But this has happened to some other films of mine such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God, which took 11 years to become a success. These things happen.”
His latest, Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (98 minutes), is screening at the NZ International Film Festival.
Sponsored by Internet security company NetScout, it is typically offbeat in its treatment of the people who created the worldwide web, those who are addicted to it and those who are so averse they have to live in places where there are no radio waves.
The stories are told in 10 chapters, a technique that grew out of a series of YouTube shorts Herzog did, including one about texting and driving.
He is fascinated by the prospect of the Internet being combined with artificial intelligence, asking one expert the question, “Does the Internet dream?”
Herzog also gobsmacks space and battery car entrepreneur Elon Musk by saying he would like to go on a one-way trip to Mars “as long as I can take my camera”.
In another segment, Herzog talks to one-time cyber-criminal Kevin Mitnick, who now preaches about how to beat the hackers.
Though Herzog says he is a slow adopter of modern technology — he didn’t make his first phone call until he was 17 and doesn’t even have a cellphone — he has embraced the new platforms for seeing films. For example, Netflix is funding his new film on volcanoes.
Herzog is also passing on his knowledge to a new generation of film-makers through his Rogue Film School, the release of a sixhour masterclass on DVD and an extended version of his 2002 book Herzog on Herzog called A Guide for the Perplexed.