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in Filmmaking
on Jul 4, 2007

In the issue of Filmmaker we just put to bed, James Ponsoldt interviews Werner Herzog, whose Rescue Dawn opens today in theaters. It’s the dramatically realized story of prisoner-of-war Dieter Dengler, whose story was previously told by Herzog in his doc, Little Dieter Learns to Fly.

Here’s an excerpt:

Filmmaker: As Dengler died in early 2001, do you think that people might interpret “Rescue Dawn” as a commentary on America’s current geopolitical relationship with the rest of the world?

Herzog: That always will happen with a film because an audience sees it with its own background, which is the immediate, present time. And of course if you show the film in, let’s say a correctional facility, if you show it to prisoners, they will understand it as a prison movie, as a prison break movie. American general audiences will always see it in context of warfare. Nowadays it is Iraq. Yes, that’s fine and it’s legitimate. It wasn’t planned that way. But I’d like to point out one fact: we are showing the film for the first time on July 4th, Independence Day. There were some delays in releasing the film, so I’m glad that all of a sudden we’re out on Independence Day (laughs). Of course, there are lots of fireworks, lots of beer drinking [on the 4th of July], but in a way, it is a day of self-definition for America. [Americans] are looking back at their origins, and this is a film that shows somehow a man who is quintessentially American, an immigrant of course, but an immigrant who came with a big dream, and had everything I like in Americans. This kind of self-reliance and optimism, street wisdom, courage, loyalty. I think it’s a good thing to see this film being released on July 4th, even though it might be suicidal to compete with the very, very big caliber films that are coming out on that day. It’s the most contested weekend throughout the entire year, I guess.

Filmmaker: I read that initially you didn’t want to film any scenes of Dieter Dengler being tortured, but that you finally changed your mind. Can you talk about that decision?

Herzog: That’s not really correct, because in the screenplay there are scenes described, and they look alright in writing. Once I filmed them, I had the feeling that no, it doesn’t look right for me as a spectator. And I’m not speaking as a director now. As a spectator, I do not like to see violence against the defenseless. I do not want to see in graphic detail the rape of a woman, for example. I do not want to see someone being tortured. So I eliminated most of what was shot. Now the scenes we have in there are not really all that drastic, nor were the other scenes so drastic that we cut them out. The film was too long anyway. I had to shorten it down and it was a pleasure to cut out some scenes that didn’t feel right for me.

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