SAN FRANCISCO, CA (January 10, 2017)—The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) announce the second season of Modern Cinema, the collaborative film series that explores the dynamic relationships between the past and present of cinema as one of the modern era’s essential art forms. Season two, entitled Werner Herzog and Ecstatic Truth, starts February 9, 2017, and is dedicated to the nonfiction work of legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog. It also includes important documentaries from other filmmakers that consider the world from a poetic, dream-infused and existential perspective. All screenings and talks take place in the newly renovated Phyllis Wattis Theater at SFMOMA, and several programs will feature special introductions by notable Bay Area figures, to be announced at a later date.
“For nearly 50 years, Werner Herzog has brought us amazing stories and images from the far ends of the earth and the limits of human experience,” said Dominic Willsdon, Leanne and George Roberts Curator of Education and Public Practice at SFMOMA. “It’s exciting to able to celebrate his work in this way, alongside other great hunters of rare and vivid truths.”
“Werner Herzog is a unique master of cinema, combining fiction and nonfiction filmmaking to make a bracingly fresh art form entirely his own,” said SFFS Executive Director Noah Cowan. “We have taken inspiration from him for our own unique collaboration with SFMOMA to bring a new perspective to the history and culture of cinema as a treasured art form, embedded within the larger story of art-making. It’s a perfect follow-up to the smash success of Modern Cinema’s first season, paying tribute to the Janus Films / Criterion library alongside the contemporary work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul.”
Modern Cinema seeks to highlight the ongoing dialogue between the critically acclaimed filmmakers of today—particularly those showcased in contemporary visual culture—and the great masters of cinema’s past, in an attempt to shine a light on the historical continuity and ongoing impact of this modern art form. The second season explores the boundaries of nonfiction filmmaking—between “fact” and “truth”—in the work of Herzog and in other canonical works in which the filmmaker’s powerful point of view similarly bends the rules of traditional documentary storytelling.
In his 2010 essay “On the Absolute, the Sublime, and Ecstatic Truth,” 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 “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 seek to 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 Werner Herzog and Ecstatic Truth offer visionary realizations of nonfiction work.