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Werner Herzog

Day 4, Wednesday October 8th at THE KERRY FILM FESTIVAL, was a day of short films for me.

As noted before, there is nothing like a well and imaginatively programmed film festival to bring you the opportunity to see films you would never come across anywhere else unless you went looking for them, and Roísin McGuigan’s programme here is an outstanding example. So yesterday afternoon it was a pleasure and surprise to see five of Werner Herzog’s earliest works, short films on a variety of subjects, but all imbued with his signature surreal and anarchic sense of humour.

The screening included his very first film, Herakles [Hercules], a collage of muscle bound men preening for the camera and an unseen audience, occasionally interrupted with questions like “But could he clear the Augean stables?” (one of the tasks Zeus set for Hercules to prove himself a true champion).


Herzog himself considers it his first lesson in making films. “My most immediate and radical lesson came from what was my first blunder, Herakles… Learning from your mistakes is the only real way to learn.” Hear, hear to that, and thank the gods, for we all make a lot of mistakes and it is good to think they are ultimately useful. Or (I’ve always liked this), as Oscar Wilde once put it, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes.”


Maßnahmen gegen Fanatiker [Measures Against Fanatics] was a completely weird and bonkers film, purporting to be a documentary about horses and their grooms and the people who inhabit professional stables. It comes on as a documentary but it slowly dawns on you that it has to be a joke. A rather German joke, it has to be said, long in the telling and only worth a chuckle in the end.

LetzteWorteLetzteWorte2 Letze Worte [Last Word] tells the story of a man forced to leave his home on the island of Spinalonga, the last inhabitant to leave, and the life he is forced to live on Crete. He plays the lyre in a bar with a friend on the balalaika, but except for the few words he needs to state his position, otherwise refuses to speak. The masterful flow of the editing, the humour and compassion in the film mark the progress of Herzog as he learns what he can do with film.


Le Soufriere is an odd film really, Herzog heard of this island being under threat of a devastating volcanic eruption which is predicted to blow the mountain to bits and the only town with it. He went to find the last determined inhabitants who say they will stay, that life is as long as God allows and if he wants them to die in this coming inferno, so be it. Throughout this interview the interview was lying on the ground where Herzog and his crew, ever the brutal documentary makers, had woken him. But the volcano never erupted, nothing happened, and the film ends a little perplexed as to why it was made, but they had the footage, so he cut it together. Film makers, who can explain them?

Made In Kerry

The evening programme was dedicated to films made in Kerry by Kerry based artists. To be honest, wearing my cruel adjudicator’s hat, there were films shown not worthy of exhibition in a film festival, but in the main it was a very encouraging demonstration of the wealth of talent living and working in the Kingdom: The best, to my mind, were Waiting For You, Barzakh, Bouncers, and Time & How It Passes.

This short animation, Time & How It Passes, animated and directed by David Begley, was too short to tell a story, but it settled for as series of connected images, evolving out of the speckles and markings on an egg. It was well thought through, and excellently executed. It was an illustration of an idea, no more than that, but good in its way.

Barzakh was an important film for us here in Ireland, because it told a vivid and personal story of the real rigours of the Irish Asylum system. It is unbelievable to report, but asylum seekers in Ireland can wait years to receive a judgement of their case, (one man in the film had been waiting more than six years and we left him still waiting). And just to make matters worse, they cannot seek work, but are expected to live on €19 per week. That is not a misprint – Nineteen Euros per week! The film was clear, and the central performance was compelling. I say performance, and it may have been that, an actor playing the part, making this a docu-drama, but it may just as likely have been a documentary, and the central character an articulate and open young man, I don’t know.

The Referee  was a talking head film, of a very amusing Seanachai (Storyteller) telling the story of a man’s encounter with the Little People. A great face, wonderfully articulate hands, and a good tale from the past, when people still believed what we now say is only myth (personally, I never disbelieve any myth that has not yet been disproved to me, but you may be as cynical as the crowd of students near me who were almost hysterical throughout!).

I’d seen Bouncers before, at the Charlie Chaplin Comedy & Film Festival last August. It is directed by the energetic and admirably ambitious Damien O’Callaghan. This is an early work of his, I gather, so he should take note of what Werner Herzog said. Bouncers is a nice piece, but it is not really a film, insofar as there is no story, no character arc, only a succession of individual scenes, in which the only connection is the location, the passing of the night, and the two lads at the heart of the film. Basically, it is an excuse for some good jokes and a couple of funny situations, but the two men we meet at the very start, the eponymous bouncers, do not seem to learn anything by the experiences of this particular night outside the bar where they work, except that they are and apparently always have been the oft repeated “Langers”, a slang I don’t know but I guess meaning something between idiot and joker. Still, as I say, some of the jokes are good and last night the audience got them all and filled the theatre with laughter, which is always a good thing.

Waiting For You on the other hand, was in an altogether higher echelon of film making. This was a world class documentary, simply shot (a home video camera, it looked like), but so beautifully, so cleverly edited, and so truthful it hurt to watch some of it, like stumbling into someone’s most private moments (which was in fact the case. Apart from anything else, it is a very brave and generous thing to have done, releasing this material).

Directed by Lisa Fingleton and featuring herself and her partner Rena, it told the very engaging and eventually touching story of a lesbian couple trying to find a way to have a child of their own by way of one of them (Lisa) becoming pregnant. What made the film so particularly good was that Lisa and Rena had kept a video diary of the whole process, and Lisa’s film told the story in chronological order, so that we shared in their initial excitement and joy, their frustrating struggle to get a fertilised egg in place, and the conclusion, which, I won’t reveal here, in the hope that you will go to youTube or Lisa’s own site – http://www.lisafingleton .com – to find the film. Waiting For You is a very honest film, and it was a privilege to have the chance to shake Lisa’s hand afterwards.

* * *

Today, Thursday, I’ve taken the morning off to visit Listowel, a town near enough to where I live for me never to have gone there, but only drive by from time to time. This evening I am to sit on a panel at a seminar organised by the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) on composing the score for film and TV. This reflects my role as Creative Director (Ireland) for Atlantic Screen Music Ltd., but that only means I know about the business of writing scores, but absolutely nothing about composing! Still, I hope and expect we will have an entertaining time, and hopefully some useful information will find its way into the conversation.

Slán Go Fall


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