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MSPIFF: "Encounters at the End of the World"

Posted at 9:23 AM on May 2, 2008 by Euan Kerr

Whoever it was at the National Science Foundation who pushed through the grant which funded Werner Herzog's trip to the South Pole deserves some sort of an award.

The resulting film "Encounters at the End of the World," screened at the closing gala for the Minneapolis St Paul International Film Festival, is a classic Herzog blend of stunningly beautiful visuals, quirky interviews, all marked by the shadow of Herzog's conviction that humanity is doomed in a world filled with death and unpleasantness.

So it sounds a little strange, but Herzog fans know the power of this combination, and the location at the South Pole just amps up all the components. Herzog says he was inspired to go to the South Pole by footage shot under the sea ice at the pole by a diver friend.

(Herzog used some of that footage in "The Wild Blue Yonder" in 2005, where he constructed a tale of inter-planetary travel using the diving footage, film from the space shuttle, and a few specially shot scenes to hold it all together.)

On arriving at McMurdo base he quickly finds that the 1,100 or so people at the pole are there for many reasons, often apparently based on a wanderlust coupled with personal eccentricity. There's a bus driver, who used to be a banker, but later talked his way out of being hacked to death by a machete-wielding gang in South America after someone decided he was a kidnapper. There is a woman who drove a garbage truck from London down through Africa, and then travelled for three days through South America in a sewer pipe on the back of a truck.

And there is the philosopher truckdriver who remembers reading how humans are the way the universe gets to perceive it's own magnificence.

I look forward to seeing this film again.

MSPIFF's St Anthony run is now done, and now moves it's final screenings to the Oak Street. At last night's event Al Milgrom said the movie theater will be screening films through the summer.

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