I shot this clip of film director Joshua Oppenheimer introducing a screening of Werner Herzog’s Even Dwarfs Start Small (1970) at the Telluride Film Festival 2017. What follows is the uncut Q&A with Werner after the screening. Pardon the occasional camera jostling and noise.
Werner reflects on the creation of this singularly disturbing masterpiece and around the stupidity of chickens. Herzog reassures the audience that his subjects are always treated like royalty after one questioner expresses concern about exploitation of his actors. Enjoy one of the GOATS talk shop!
“This is why I became a filmmaker—and the most haunting work of cinema ever created. An institution set amid volcanic wastes is taken over by its inmates. All of them are dwarfs. So is the warden, who’s held hostage. He keeps a hostage of his own, another dwarf, a strategy to protect himself from the inmates’ wrath. The structures of power—furniture, telephones, cars—are scaled for full-sized adults, dwarfing everybody. Werner Herzog’s second feature is perhaps the most profound vision ever conjured of how bureaucracy corrupts the human impulse for liberation. A taboo is violated early on: inmates kill a pig suckling its litter, and from then on the rules that keep us human are jettisoned. Dark impulses, lurking in us all, take over. These are dream images that leave you with a metallic taste in the mouth and a ringing in the ears.”
Joshua is the documentarian behind the masterpieces The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence. Josh was Telluride’s guest director this year, which means he curated a program of films that he felt could help us grapple with our current societal moment.
As an aspiring filmmaker, I’ve been struggling with a fundamental question: Does the cinema matter? Or is it just a comfy escape – a chance to unplug, unwind, and disassociate from a broken world?
Among the other films Oppenheimer presented at Telluride include: Salaam Cinema (1995), Hotel of the Stars (1981), and Titicut Follies (1967). These three documentaries are not easy to watch, but you still ought to seek them out. They give us a glimpse into the absurdity of authority and the redeeming power of empathy.
After watching them, I left with a renewed faith that, yes, cinema IS important. In fact, it may be the key to understanding the modern world – for over a hundred years filmmakers have been leaving us clues. The cinema is not merely a modern art form, but a modern language unto itself. And it’s helping us learn from our past and imagine a more humane and beautiful future.