Legendary director Werner Herzog unveiled his latest documentary, Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World, at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. After an introduction explaining that he didn’t make his first phone call until the age of seventeen, the filmmaker returned for a wide-ranging and often hilarious Q&A. Here are some edited highlights:
I. Sometimes a project or something you are doing comes as a surprise. This came as a surprise. Two weeks before I started I never would have dreamt I would do a film about the Internet. Once I was set in motion, I immediately had the spark of urgency and the spark of curiosity. I was carried away by it.
I think my privilege and my way of looking deeper is because I am someone who reads. I do read. And I would advise all the young people: You are not reading enough. You just have to read, read, read, read, read. If you don’t read you will never understand the world. You will be left out and you will fail.
II. How many films applied to be shown here? Over twelve thousand. How would anyone out there who is not into moviemaking, who is not closer to cinema, how would you make your choices? Sundance doesn’t have an extremely long history but it has a certain depth. It has served the audiences well. Most of the people who show their films here, first-time filmmakers in particular, are young people. I am an anomaly. I am a statistical anomaly.
But I think it is good that the festival has the capability of curating. Almost all the filmmakers who have showed films here and almost all their films somehow got traction out in the world. It may come at us with Lo And Behold. Let’s assume theoretically that one of the Internet companies picks it up. Then all of the sudden you will know exactly how many people clicked on it, how many people switched off after twelve-and-a-half minutes and moved on to watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
You have to understand these filters. That’s a part of reading. I advise all of you to watch the world into which you are born and where you live. You have to watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. You have to watch WrestleMania. You have to watch things that are not the big intellectual things. You will start to understand in which kind of world we are living, what is our surrounding.
III. In what sort of universe are we living? How much intelligence is out there in your opinion? Is there anything smart out there? No intelligent signals so far. We’ve been watching for decades now. Fifty years, nothing. Zero. I would assume that there may be some forms of life out there, but they are probably pretty dumb.
We shouldn’t go to Mars. I think it’s not a good idea. Besides, it would be at least a thousand times easier to settle a colony on the bottom of the ocean. A thousand times easier. But even thinking about colonizing the bottom of an ocean is an obscene idea. We should rather look to keep things habitable up here.
IV. At the MIT Media Lab they are developing robots that respond like pets. They are fluffy and they are real companions to you. It’s staggering. Will we invent our own children like that? Rather than the ones who don’t like the food we put on the table for them and they screech? We may be enticed to create clones of us that are much easier to manage. I don’t want to see that.
I love human contact. Tactile contact. How shall I say this? It’s wonderful that there are women out there. Imagine a world where there are no women at all? Utterly unbearable. To smell the hair of a woman that you love, that cannot be replaced by anything. To have a newborn and sniff the head and the hair, it is something which is a delight and a privilege we have that is priceless. It cannot be replaced.
V. We have seven thousand million human beings now on this planet. I remember a year-and-a-half ago all the network anchorwomen were saying how wonderful that the seven billionth child was born in the Philippines. Is it a boy, is it a girl? They were beaming. My heart sank and I thought this was the most terrifying news I had heard in a decade.
For this new mobile civilization you need new forms of organization. So how do you get water from your tap? How do you pay taxes? How do you make money transfer at the McDonald’s? How do you make airline bookings? It’s huge, incredible, exploding amounts of information that need to be managed just so we can stand here because we flew in and we are wearing shoes that were fabricated somewhere in Taiwan or god-knows where.
So there’s an incredible amount of networking necessary for us to be, in a way, somewhat free as human beings. And of course all this is regulated, or not regulated? How is it functioning? There are gigantic streams flowing with information and companies that keep looking at it. That’s basically what was originally behind this project.