Werner Herzog is one of the most influential directors in the New German Cinema. Described by his peers as a "visionary", his work muddies the line between fictional storytelling and documentary. He talks about his latest film GRIZZLY MAN, a film which reflects on human nature as much as it does on nature itself...
What attracted you to Timothy Treadwell?
I had not seen any of the footage when I decided that I would make the film. I had a hunch that this was very big. Actually I was not even supposed to direct the film, someone else had the project, the producer Erik Nelson. I was searching for my keys and I saw an article on Timothy Treadwell on his messy desk. Nelson told me, “We are doing a fantastic project here.” I read the article and said "I want to direct the film."
In your approach in this documentary you go out of your way to flag up the fictional element of the story. You seem to eschew cinéma vérité. Why this style and what do you find so interesting about it?
I think cinéma vérité and all the successive epigones of this cheap downgraded version of cinéma vérité, what you see on television quite a bit, has had its day. We are in a time when we have to redefine reality. When you watch Reality TV of course it is not reality and is all made up. When you look at a photo it is somehow manipulated through photoshop. Everything in a Hollywood film has digital effects in it. Reality has been modified and manipulated, so we have to redefine reality.
Was it hard to watch all of Timothy's footage?
I had people helping me with viewing all the 100 hours of footage he’d shot. That would have taken me 10 days alone. I had 4 people shifting through this material and I saw something like 10 hours. They were clearly instructed in what to look for and most of what Treadwell shot was fluffy bear cubs and fishing. But even this was difficult as my assistants overlooked some of the most beautiful images that I’ve ever seen in my life; the paws of the fox on the tent. From inside the tent you see that there are these paws and Treadwell’s hands come up and scratch at the soles of these paws and it was discarded as too shaky, it is so bouncy that it was never considered by those who assisted me and I think it is the most beautiful of any footage I’ve ever seen so I used it. I think Treadwell would have overlooked it in the same way.
Was it hard editing the footage together?
Yes, I mean it was so unbelievable what I saw. Because I only saw Timothy’s footage after I shot my film; Grizzly Man is about 50% what I shot and 50% what Treadwell produced. After I shot my footage than I started to see Treadwell’s material and you could not have scripted the film better, staged it better, it was just something beyond belief.
Grizzly Man was a huge success on its release in the United States. Are you ever surprised by what is successful and not?
I was not really aware of this success because I was deep in the jungle close to the border of Burma shooting my new film Rescue Dawn. I only had some very distant echoes that it was doing well, very, very well actually for a documentary. It had several very good reviews. I think that it was the best reviewed film in America last year and that’s including feature films. I know it’s a good film.
Do you think Timothy would like the film you made?
Yes, yes. I think he would have liked the film because he was working on a big film with him as a great star in it. I give him the credit and the space to be a big star. I even give him the best background music to make him feel like a star.