His first documentary since 2005's Grizzly Man, Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World finds the filmmaker at McMurdo Station at the South Pole. Part nature film (but in Herzog's own words, not just another film about fluffy penguins), part character study, Herzog talks to the workers and scientists who have made their way to the pole, in between stunning shots of both land and sea.
Herzog captures on film the beauty and diversity of this isolated land, especially in the footage shot under the ice by his friend Henry Kaiser (who also did work on Herzog's Wild Blue Yonder). Then Herzog goes beyond the natural and looks at what type of person moves to the ends of the earth. There's the former Colorado banker who now drives the base's bus. There's the mechanic, who freed from years behind the Iron Curtain, always keeps a bag packed, ready to travel to the next adventure on a moment's notice. There are many more stories of these people, who in the words of one of them, have drifted to the bottom of the world because they've lacked and ties to hold them in place elsewhere.
Entertaining, educational, and visually stunning, Encounters at the End of the World is a different look at one of the last frontiers on earth.
Herzog had left the festival by this showing, but executive producer Julian Hobbs of Discovery Films answered questions:
- Some of the footage used in Wild Blue Yonder is the same imagery that he used in this film. The link between the two films is Henry Kaiser, who is an underwater photographer. Kaiser is also a musician and worked on the Grizzly Man soundtrack. While they were working on that, Kaiser showed him some underwater footage, and shortly thereafter they made Wild Blue Yonder.
- Herzog wasn't allowed to go underwater; Kaiser did all the filming.
- Herzog was invited down to Antarctica as a poet artist-in-residence by the US National Science Foundation. He spent about a week of training, and then six weeks filming. The crew consisted of just Herzog doing his own sound, plus his longtime cinematographer (Peter Zeitlinger).
- On the music in the film, Hobbs mentioned that Herzog has pretty wide-ranging tastes. Some of the music is original, others are Russian Orthodox chants, and his wife is Russian, so that might be an answer, although Hobbs said really that is a question Herzog would have to answer.
- There was no set itinerary; Herzog had full access to all the facilities connected to the US scientific community down there.
- On working with Herzog, Hobbs said that Herzog is the most unassuming, charming, fascinating, polite, easy-to-work-with person, despite his reputation to the contrary. Discovery Films gives him a lot of free range on his projects with them, because they are not there to push a Hollywood agenda on him.
- It took about 6 months to prep and do pre-production, and editing took about 10 weeks.
- This is the first movie Herzog has shot on video. Hobbs figures the ratio of footage he used was around 8:1. Most of the scientists he interviewed made it onto film, but Hobbs speculated that Herzog picked those who fit the editorial that he wanted.