Film Series

Modern Cinema: Werner Herzog and Ecstatic Truth

February 9–26, 2017
Phyllis Wattis Theater
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

SFMOMA and the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) present Modern Cinema, a film series exploring the dynamic forces interacting between cinema’s past and present.

Do documentaries traffic in truth, or in something else? In his 2010 essay “On the Absolute, the Sublime, and Ecstatic Truth,” Werner Herzog put forth his feelings about veracity in life and documentary filmmaking, stating that he “can only very vaguely begin to fathom the Absolute; I am in no position to define the concept.” Distinguishing between the factual and what he calls the “ecstatic flash” of truth, he writes, “What moves me has never been reality, but a question that lies behind it: the question of truth.”

Taking Herzog’s idea of the Ecstatic Truth as its organizing principle, the second season of Modern Cinema combines a vast range of this master filmmaker’s documentaries with complementary works that operate along similar lines. A number of the films presented are seminal works from early in Herzog’s career. Whether it’s the unforgettable landscapes and nightmarish visions of Fata Morgana and Lessons of Darkness; the probing looks at preaching and spirituality in Huie’s Sermon, Wheel of Time, and Pilgrimage; or some of his more recent investigations into the natural world, Herzog’s films almost always surprise and provoke in how they approach their topics.

The films by other directors presented alongside Herzog’s work share some of his interests while reflecting their creators’ own particular styles. From idiosyncratic portraits of unique individuals (Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason and Herzog’s Little Dieter Needs to Fly) to unforgettable depictions about spirituality (Philip Gröning’s Into Great Silence and Herzog’s Bells from the Deep) to behind-the-scenes stories of filmmaking itself (Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams and Herzog’s My Best Fiend), the subjects presented in season two offer visionary realizations of nonfiction work.

Modern Cinema’s Founding Supporters are Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein. Generous support is provided by Nion T. McEvoy and the Susan Wildberg Morgenstein Fund. Additional support is provided by Becky Draper.

Events in this Series

See all past events

Little Dieter Needs to Fly

Sunday, February 26, 2017, 7:30 p.m.

Wheel of Time

Sunday, February 26, 2017, 5:30 p.m.

My Best Fiend

Saturday, February 25, 2017, 8:30 p.m.

A Man Vanishes

Saturday, February 25, 2017, 5:30 p.m.

Portrait of Jason

Saturday, February 25, 2017, 3:00 p.m.

Happy People: A Year in the Taiga

Friday, February 24, 2017, 8:30 p.m.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Friday, February 24, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

The Lion Hunters with The Mad Masters

Thursday, February 23, 2017, 7:30 p.m.

Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun

Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On

Sunday, February 19, 2017, 8:00 p.m.


Sunday, February 19, 2017, 5:15 p.m.

God’s Angry Man with Huie’s Sermon

Sunday, February 19, 2017, 3:00 p.m.

Encounters at the End of the World

Saturday, February 18, 2017, 8:00 p.m.

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life

Saturday, February 18, 2017, 5:00 p.m.


Saturday, February 18, 2017, 3:00 p.m.

Gates of Heaven

Friday, February 17, 2017, 8:00 p.m.

Fata Morgana

Friday, February 17, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

Poto and Cabengo

Thursday, February 16, 2017, 8:15 p.m.

Land of Silence and Darkness

Thursday, February 16, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

Lessons of Darkness with La Soufrière

Sunday, February 12, 2017, 7:30 p.m.

Into Great Silence

Sunday, February 12, 2017, 3:30 p.m.

My Winnipeg

Saturday, February 11, 2017, 8:30 p.m.

Bells from the Deep with Pilgrimage

Saturday, February 11, 2017, 5:00 p.m.

Jag Mandir: The Eccentric Private Theatre of the Maharaja of Udaipur

Saturday, February 11, 2017, 3:00 p.m.

The Gleaners and I

Friday, February 10, 2017, 8:30 p.m.

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner with How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck

Friday, February 10, 2017, 6:00 p.m.

Grizzly Man

Thursday, February 9, 2017, 8:30 p.m.

Burden of Dreams

Thursday, February 9, 2017, 6:00 p.m.