Monday, 30 June 2008

EIFF Winner: Encounters at the End of the World- Review by Emma Lennox

Best Documentary Award

Director: Werner Herzog
Producer: Henry Kaiser
Runtime: 99 mins

It sounds like the title of an H.G Wells sci-fi flick, and in reality, Werner Herzog's South pole documentary is just as sublimely fantastical. Herzog's narration-in his typically earnest, deutsch tones- is surreal enough; he even wisecracks about “fluffy penguins” and goat riding monkeys, but it is that altogether stranger species of the Antarctic scientist which has caught the documentarian's eye. These are travellers who have “jumped off the margins of the map”, and create a bizarre collection of people who occasionally wear buckets on their heads or try to grasp sub atomic particles from other plains of existence. Much of the imagery is bizarre or alien such as the view of three goggled scientists, lying ear to ice on the frozen Antarctic sea, listening to seals beneath. Seals in water, it turns out, sound like they are singing Doctor Who's theme tune and this is just one of many unlikely discoveries in the film. Herzog is only able to scratch the surface of everything, taking a narrower, personal point of view but through the compelling stories and inspiring visuals, he reveals that sometimes in science, reality is stranger than fiction.

Chair of the award jury, Seamus McGarvey stated their reasons for awarding Herzog : "Herzog uses his camera as a writer might use a pen, making notes as he goes along, allowing the audience to share the discoveries he makes through the lens. Many of the shortlisted films confront important issues in the world today. Encounters at the End of the World approaches equally important issues but draws its authority from its quiet assurance. It is a challenging film and reveals, sometimes obliquely, sometimes directly, profound insights into the state we're in. We felt it was a celebration of documentary filmmaking that thoroughly deserves to win the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival Best Documentary Award.”

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