Herzog in Antarctica: An Easy Place to Make a Film

Werner Herzog, who has made movies about grizzly bears in Alaska and a downed fighter pilot in Laos, just finished filming in Antarctica and one thing he wants to make clear: it was easy.

PEGASUS ICE RUNWAY, Antarctica — Werner Herzog, who has made movies about grizzly bears in Alaska and a downed fighter pilot in Laos, just finished filming in Antarctica and one thing he wants to make clear: it was easy.

Herzog, 64, filmed at Mount Erebus, home of a live volcano, in the Antarctic spring.

While he acknowledged it was cold, and the crew had to spend a couple days getting acclimatized before they could reach the 13,500-foot summit -- which feels about 3,000 feet higher due to low air pressure -- he praised the ease of the location.

"It's easy. Antarctica is easy," Herzog, 64, said in a recent interview with Reuters as he waited on the ice to board a military jet at the end of filming.

The award-winning German-born filmmaker, screenwriter, actor and opera director is known for such art house movies as "Fitzcarraldo" and "Nosferatu."

His other recent projects have included "Grizzly Man," a documentary about activists in Alaska who were killed by the grizzly bears they meant to protect, and "Rescue Dawn," about a U.S. fighter pilot shot down over Laos during the Vietnam war.

People get the wrong impression of the harshness of the place, based on the heroic age of Antarctic explorers like Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, Herzog said.

"It's a perpetuated sort of image since the days of 1903 or 1910 or 1911, when Scott and Amundsen and Shackleton were out here," he said. "Now you have got a cafeteria, you have got the barber shop and the TV station. You've got the ATM machine, so what else can you ask for?"

These considerable amenities are at McMurdo Station, the biggest U.S. science installation on the continent, where Herzog was based for the filming of this project, a documentary set to air on the Discovery Channel next year.


"Good transportation, a warm bed, a shower," Herzog went on, referring to conditions in Antarctica. "It is easy and nobody should try to perpetuate the aspect that this is a wild, furiously anti-human sort of continent."

He became interested in making a movie in Antarctica after seeing some underwater footage taken near McMurdo by the diver and experimental guitarist Henry Kaiser, Herzog said.

The director, who lives in Los Angeles, was enthusiastic but dubious when Kaiser, a veteran Antarctic hand, suggested filmmaking on the southern continent.

"Somehow, casually, he asked me, 'Wouldn't you like to go to Antarctica?' And I said yes, but I'm not useful here: I'm not a pilot, I'm not a scientist, I'm not a cook, I'm not a mechanic. I'm not needed, not wanted and kind of useless."

Ultimately, Herzog went to Antarctica as part of the National Science Foundation's program for artists and writers.

Antarctica has long been a subject that has captivated filmmakers, starting as early as 1913 with an Australian movie about life in the Antarctic and continuing through to the tap-dancing, environmentally aware penguins of this season's animated hit "Happy Feet."

Often the theme is the folly of human dreams of conquering this hostile land.

George Butler, maker of the 2000 documentary "The Endurance," about Shackleton's harrowing voyage to Antarctica -- which turned into a mission to keep his crew alive -- said he was captivated by the continent, which he called "the most beautiful place on Earth."

Butler praised the wildlife, the variety of birds, the changeability of the light, and the unspoiled nature of it.

"I always try to make movies that are beyond imagination," Butler said. "It's beyond the average person's imagination, and that fascinates people."

Herzog's focus was more on the people who work in Antarctica now, and the fine weather he encountered was not to his taste.

"It looked like stupid postcards: blue sky," Herzog said. "And so I'd like to be here in the twilight months . But it wouldn't make sense because hardly anyone is left then.

"And my feeling is very much about the people who end up here, who do science, who service the community, who do logistics, who do the dishwashing," he said. "You do not find good men and good women like that easily anywhere."

Source: Reuters

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