Disconnect to connect – German director films documentary piece at NRAO

As they wait for the film crew to set up the next shot, director Werner Herzog (left) and Dr. Jay Lockman talk about Herzog’s earlier works. (S. Stewart photos)
As they wait for the film crew to set up the next shot, director Werner Herzog (left) and Dr. Jay Lockman talk about Herzog’s earlier works. (S. Stewart photos)

By Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer
The Pocahontas Times
Mountain Media
Best known for his many and varied documentary films, including Grizzly Man, German director, producer, screenwriter, author, actor and opera director Werner Herzog has focused his new series of short documentaries on the most used entity in the world – the Internet.
“I started to stretch out my feelers and came across this idea of whole areas switching the system [Internet] off,” Herzog said. “I’m also fascinated by, for example, teenagers who do the experiment to turn all their devices off for twenty-four hours. The only device is their GoPro camera.”
Herzog recalled watching one teenager do the experiment and how, at first, she went crazy without her devices, but after awhile, she began to notice things that she missed in her every day life.
“After two hours, there was a teenage girl, she was losing it,” he said. “She was whining she couldn’t text. Then later, she was completely excited and she says, ‘it’s so extraordinary. I walked every day from school and there are birds and they’re chirping. There are birds in the trees.’ She always had on her headphones, listening to music, so she missed the birds.
“It’s a real interesting phenomenon – what does it do to us when we are somehow disconnected or in our own free will decide to disconnect,” he continued.
One portion of the documentary will feature life in Green Bank and how things are different due in large part to the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. While there is Internet in Green Bank, there are no cell towers.
Herzog said he wants to focus on life in Green Bank because of the lack of electronic device usage.
“What is fascinating about here is there is no Internet – well, a very, very reduced form of Internet,” he said. “To have one single place here in the United States which is a Quiet Zone and scientists doing extraordinary research. Social life is different. People, in fact, talk to each other and they don’t text. We’re going to film with Dr. [Jay] Lockman, how he’s joining a few friends and they’re playing the fiddle. It’s how life should be.”
Herzog filmed Lockman, Green Bank Telescope Principle Scientist, on the observation deck with the Green Bank Telescope in the background, and with the diesel car parked in front of the Science Center.
Herzog also interviewed several individuals who live in Green Bank.
Herzog and the crew were in Green Bank for two days and returned to Washington, DC Sunday.
The documentary series will be released on the Internet in the late fall.
Herzog is considered one of the most influential New German Cinema figures and led the postwar West German cinema movement. He began his career making feature films focusing on the human condition in a bittersweet and stark manner.
According to Herzog’s website, www.wernerherzog.com, one of his best-known films, Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre, the Wrath of God), released in 1972, “follows a band of Spanish explorers into unmapped territory, recording their gradual mental and physical self-destruction.”
Later in his career, Herzog focused mainly on documentaries. Most notable of those are Glocken aus der Tiefe (Bells from the Deep), released in 1995, which features the religious beliefs among Russians, and 2005’s Grizzly Man, which followed the life of American Timothy Treadwell who studied and lived among grizzly bears in Alaska. In the end, Treadwell and his girlfriend were both mauled to death by the bears they studied.
While Herzog became famous for his role as director and producer, he would take rolls in feature films, most notably as a stern father in Julien Donkey-Boy in 1999, and as a criminal mastermind in 2012’s Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise.
In 2013, Herzog was commissioned to create a series of mini-documentaries revealing the consequences of texting and driving.
AT&T picked up a few of the segments and used them as advertisements.
Several of his films have won awards and have been featured at film festivals around the world.
His first feature film, Signs of Life, 1968, won the Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury. In 1982, he won the best director award for Fitzcarraldo. In 1975, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser won The Special Jury Prize, also known as the Silver Palm at the Cannes Festival.
Herzog and his half-brother, Lucki Stipetic, won the Bavarian Film Award for Best Producing for the film Cobra Verde, in 1997. In 2002, he won the Dragon of Dragons Honorary Award at the Krakow Film Festival.
Herzog was also honored at the 49th San Francisco International Film Festival with the 2006 Film Society Directing Award. Grizzly Man, won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival.Encounters at the End of the World won the award for Best Documentary at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival and was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature, Herzog’s first nomination.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com.



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