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Werner Herzog turns 80: 5 must-watch documentaries by the German filmmaker

From exploring the wonders of Antarctica to examining the visitors from other worlds, these documentaries look into both mythical and scientific aspects of life on Earth
Werner Herzog as The Client in Disney+ Hotstar’s The Mandalorian.
Werner Herzog as The Client in Disney+ Hotstar’s The Mandalorian.

Saikat Chakraborty   |   Calcutta   |   Published 05.09.22, 05:19 PM

Filmmaker, screenwriter, author, actor, opera director — German documentarian Werner Herzog wears many hats. Portraying The Client in Star Wars’ spin-off series The Mandalorian made him popular among Star Wars fans in 2019, but Herzog’s documentaries have been a source of inspiration for several filmmakers over many decades. 

Herzog, through his documentaries, has often explored the beauty of planet Earth and the human connection with the environment. As the iconic filmmaker turns 80 today, we take a look at five of his most recent and must-watch documentaries. 


Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds (2020)

In 2020, Herzog collaborated with Apple TV for a gripping documentary about meteors. Titled Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, the documentary, co-directed by Clive Oppenheimer, explores many aspects of meteorites — the scientific side and the cultural and spiritual side, especially of ancient tribes that might not have known what it really was.

Oppenheimer visited a lab that specifically studied and displayed meteorites to learn about the physical outlook of these alien materials. It also looks at the craters the meteorites leave behind, offering a deeper insight into this natural phenomenon and how people have viewed it over the centuries.

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016)

Herzog explores the modern era of computers and artificial intelligence in his 2016 documentary, Lo and Behold. The filmmaker utilises it to investigate the impact that computer technology is having on various people and wonders where it will lead us in the future.

While shooting this documentary, Herzog connected with those involved in the creation of the internet in its infancy at the University of California. They shared humorous anecdotes about the earliest communications exchanged in history as well as the generally unexpected nature of computer technology during its early years. In this documentary, Herzog explores the possible future of human civilisation through a deep dive into the past. 

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)

In 2010’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog visits the oldest known cave paintings in the world in the Chauvet caves in Southern France. The German filmmaker was given exclusive access to document the over 3,000-year-old artworks for his film and to capture the beauty that has been kept alive in the darkest recesses of human history. Only three crew members were permitted to enter the cave to film, but Herzog and his team were still able to provide spectators with an educational 3D experience.

The documentary explains the significance of these cave drawings for understanding human behaviour and our origins through interviews with scientists and historians.

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

Herzog’s Academy Award-nominated 2007 documentary Encounters at the End of the World is a far cry from the average documentaries on Antarctica. In this film, he records the activities of scientists in the barren tundra of Antarctica. Encounters at the End of the World was inspired to be made after viewing footage from one of the party’s cameras in the sea below the ice. It also looks at what draws scientists from around the world to this harsh, merciless wasteland. 

Antarctica is both beautiful and terrible. Even though it is a documentary, there are instances when it is hard to distinguish it from a science-fiction movie. The documentarian explores many scientific camps in Antarctica and even Ernest Shackleton’s well-maintained cabin. The discussions that are interspersed throughout are the ideal complement to the spectacular Antarctic picture.

Grizzly Man (2005)

Timothy Treadwell, a bear aficionado, is the subject of Herzog’s acclaimed 2005 film Grizzly Man. It details the life and eventual demise of Treadwell, a man who believed he was protecting Alaskan bears from poachers and who, in essence, lived among them until they killed him and his partner Amie Huguenard. For 13 years, Treadwell passionately approached and interacted with the bears under the impression that he had become friends with them. However, his naive assumption became the cause of his untimely and gruesome death. 

Herzog combed through more than 100 hours of footage that had been recovered from Treadwell’s last five years of life to use it in his film alongside interviews with those who knew Treadwell and bear experts like scientists and park rangers.

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