Modern Cinema: Werner Herzog and Ecstatic Truth

Feb 9–26, 2017

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.

See all past events
Burden of Dreams
Thursday, February 9, 2017, 6 p.m.
Video still, Les Blank, Burden of Dreams
Grizzly Man
Thursday, February 9, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
Video still, ​ Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man
The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner with How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck
Friday, February 10, 2017, 6 p.m.
Video still, Herzog, The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner
The Gleaners and I
Friday, February 10, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
Video still, Agnès Varda, The Gleaners & I
Jag Mandir: The Eccentric Private Theatre of the Maharaja of Udaipur
Saturday, February 11, 2017, 3 p.m.
Video still, Werner Herzog, Jag Mandir
Bells from the Deep with Pilgrimage
Saturday, February 11, 2017, 5 p.m.
Still, Werner Herzog, Bells from the Deep
My Winnipeg
Saturday, February 11, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
Still, Guy Maddin, My Winnipeg
Into Great Silence
Sunday, February 12, 2017, 3:30 p.m.
Still, ​ Philip Gröning, Into Great Silence
Lessons of Darkness with La Soufrière
Sunday, February 12, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Still, Werner Herzog, Lessons of Darkness
Land of Silence and Darkness
Thursday, February 16, 2017, 6 p.m.
Still, Werner Herzog, Land of Silence and Darkness
Poto and Cabengo
Thursday, February 16, 2017, 8:15 p.m.
Still, ​ Jean-Pierre Gorin, Poto and Cabengo
Fata Morgana
Friday, February 17, 2017, 6 p.m.
Still, Herzog, Fata Morgana
Gates of Heaven
Friday, February 17, 2017, 8 p.m.
Still, Errol Morris, Gates of Heaven
Encounters at the End of the World
Saturday, February 18, 2017, 8 p.m.
Still, ​Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World
Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life
Saturday, February 18, 2017, 5 p.m.
Still, Herzog, Into the Abyss
Saturday, February 18, 2017, 3 p.m.
Still, ​Sharon Lockhart, Goshogaoka
God’s Angry Man with Huie’s Sermon
Sunday, February 19, 2017, 3 p.m.
Still, Werner Herzog, God’s Angry Man
Sunday, February 19, 2017, 5:15 p.m.
Still, Abbas Kiarostami, Close-Up
The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On
Sunday, February 19, 2017, 8 p.m.
Still, ​ Kazuo Hara, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On
Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 6 p.m.
Still, Herzog, Wodaabe
The Lion Hunters with The Mad Masters
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Still, Jean Rouch, The Lion Hunters
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Friday, February 24, 2017, 6 p.m.
Still, Werner Herzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Friday, February 24, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
Still, Werner Herzog and Dmitry Vasyukov, Happy People: A Year in the Taiga
Portrait of Jason
Saturday, February 25, 2017, 3 p.m.
Still, Shirley Clarke, Portrait of Jason
A Man Vanishes
Saturday, February 25, 2017, 5:30 p.m.
Still, Shôhei Imamura, A Man Vanishes
My Best Fiend
Saturday, February 25, 2017, 8:30 p.m.
Still, Herzog, My Best Fiend
Wheel of Time
Sunday, February 26, 2017, 5:30 p.m.
Still, Herzog, Wheel of Time
Little Dieter Needs to Fly
Sunday, February 26, 2017, 7:30 p.m.
Still, Werner Herzog, Little Dieter Needs to Fly