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CANNES – He’s certainly no stranger to Cannes. But auteur-director Werner Herzog is more used to the red carpet glamour of the Film Festival than the bustle of the Palais du Festival basement during MIPCOM.
The director of the poignant and discomfiting documentary Into The Abyss, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last month, is promoting the theatrical feature here. He is also talking to buyers about a separate TV project, Death Row, about four death row inmates sentenced for state execution that will be completed towards the end of the year. And he’s taking time out to do the media blitz around the release of his 3D journey into prehistory Cave of Forgotten Dreams ahead of its release in some European markets.
The quietly spoken director – who was once shot at during an interview and decided to continue on regardless – says he’s working harder than ever and completing projects quicker than ever before. He told the Hollywood Reporter why he has made the effort to come to MIPCOM for the first time and why Abyss has been the most intense film journey of his life.
THR: Why are you at MIPCOM?
Werner Herzog: It’s the first time here. I have moved back into producing my films again – after thirty or forty years – so I’m taking it very seriously. Very early in the process I am doing my best to assist the sales of the film. I want to make the point that I care about audiences and I care about distribution. It’s like a new horizon for me after all these years.
THR: What is it about the theme of death row executions that has compelled you to keep coming back to it?
WH: Let me put it in a wider perspective. People have a tendency – the media in particular – to see the horizontal spread of my work. I’ve made professional films in all continents, even Antarctica – because I’m curious. But I keep pointing out that I’ve done things always with a very vertical looking deep into the abysses of the human soul. When I came up with the title Into The Abyss, all of a sudden I had the feeling this could have been the title of about 20 of my films. Very deep examination into the human heart. So in a way it is finally the film and the title that I’ve worked on since my adolescence.
THR: Did it feel different?
WH: This is the most intense film I’ve ever made. There’s nothing as intense as this one. It comes across to audiences. In Toronto is played in a huge theater and it [the film] is basically conversations with people but there were 1200 people in the audience but they were completely tense – as if no one was even breathing.
It has been so intense during the filming that both the editor and I started smoking again. When I’m editing, I’m fairly regularly working eight hours at a time, very focused, very quick. In this both the editor and I could only work five hours in this and then we were spent.
THR: What made it so draining?
WH: I don’t know. It was something very essential, very deep inside of us. The perpetrators are very, very human. And I treat them like human beings. For instance, I’m never on camera but I wear a suit, I address them formally. In real life I never wear a suit! When you see them and hear their stories you keep wondering if life had been different – if it had been taken one step further – it could have been us. Maybe we could have been on death row.
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