DOXA Film Festival Preview| Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Werner Herzog's 3D Experiment

Official movie poster for Herzog's latest film project
Werner Herzog is one of those rare contemporary individuals who can claim the title "Renaissance Man" without much dispute. A director, producer, actor, screenwriter, opera director, and even reluctant film theorist—he co-authored  Herzog on Herzog, a book that successfully challenges many of the theories associated with his films while revealing his own unique perspective—Herzog is believed by many critics to be among the most important filmmakers alive today.

Herzog calls the Chauvet cave a "proto-cinematic" experience.
Perhaps not surprisingly then, Herzog’s latest film project The Cave of Forgotten Dreams pays homage to what he calls the "proto-cinematic" experience. In his estimation, this can be found in cave paintings—images of movement, dynamic space, and the tension between memory and fantasy. Set in the famous Chauvet cave in the south of France first discovered in 1994, Herzog's documentary provides viewers with a rare chance to explore one of the most important Western cultural treasures on the planet. This is not an understatement since cave painting represents the literal place where art history constructs its starting point (“cave painting to the Renaissance” is the shorthand description for part one of most typical art history survey courses) and for good or for ill, French caves have come to be known as the richest prehistoric art sites in the world.

Herzog in 3D glasses-- a sight to behold!
(image source:
For Herzog, however, it was not enough to meet the already serious challenge of getting the French government to agree to his filming of the caves (which he did). He went to the next level and made the controversial decision to shoot the entire film in 3D. In an insightful interview with Archaeology, the official academic journal of the Archeological Institute of America, Herzog describes his decision to enhance the viewer’s experience of the film through the immersive technique of 3D:

"3-D was imperative because I initially thought there were flat walls and paintings in the cave. But there are no flat areas. The drama of the bulges and niches was actually used by the artists. They did it with phenomenal skill, with great artistic skill, and there was something expressive about it, a drama of rock transformed and utilized, in the drama of paintings. This is why it was imperative to shoot in 3-D…"

Herzog goes on to elaborate aspects of his filmic vision for the documentary in this other revealing interview with Empire Magazine (see clip below):

Reviews of the film have been mixed—the subject of beauty and spirituality associated with the “birth of art” (and in France) suggested in this film will always disturb any number of critics. But the consensus remains that Herzog has provided “a gift” to audiences who will likely never see the caves with their own eyes as it remains closed to the public. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and plans are already in place to distribute the film in North America through IFC Films and the History Channel. For Vancouverites, the rare opportunity to preview the film on the big screen in 3D before wider release has been made possible by DOXA organizers, and the film has been ceremoniously chosen as the closing night film. As of this post’s publication, the Saturday night screening has been sold out for advance tickets and a second screening has been added for Sunday morning. 

Cave of Forgotten Dreams will be screening at DOXA on Saturday, May 14th at 7:00pm and Sunday May 15th at 11:00 am at the Park Theatre.