The following is a speech I gave introducing the category of “Documentary” at LKT’s Halfway There Festival at Towson University:
In 1980, at the premiere of documentarian Errol Morris’s first film Gates of Heaven, director Werner Herzog boiled and ate his shoe in front of a live audience. What would prompt a man to eat his own shoe, you ask? Herzog himself explains the logic behind the decision, “It should be an encouragement to all of you who want to make films and are just too scared to start… and who haven’t got the guts.”
Allow me to take a step back and explain. Herzog had noticed Morris’s incredible ability to find story material and to interpret it. The man was a genius who had yet to realize his full potential. We’re talking about the guy who went on to make The Thin Blue Line and Fog of War. In order to encourage him to get ANY film made, Herzog offered to Morris that if he could ever complete a single film, he would eat his shoes.
Well, Morris did complete that film, despite not having the money, nor the experience to fully realize his idea. Gates of Heaven, his documentary detailing the lives of pet cemetery owners, is really a story about how people choose to mourn and how people interpret the meaning of life through death. Roger Ebert includes it among his Top Ten Best Films of All Time list.
As I mentioned, Herzog attended the premiere fully prepared to eat the shoe in front of an audience. You can actually find the entire 20 minutes on YouTube if you search for “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.”
In the closing of that film, Herzog explains that his fear for our society is that we do not possess “adequate images” for our future. He equates this fear with the problems of pollution and nuclear warfare; that we could potentially become extinct if we as a people do not find for ourselves these “adequate images.” Documentarians like Errol Morris help to provide these “images” that we so desperately need and if eating a shoe is what it takes for these films to be made, then those are the steps that must be taken.
Herzog urges us seated here, college students spending their Friday night at a film festival, to pursue truth and meaning in our films, despite not having the money or the experience to do so. I’m very happy to say that this year, the documentary category actually received one of the highest number of submissions out of any category. Ladies and gentleman, I proudly present to you this years submissions for documentary film.