Wodaabe: Herdsmen of the Sun + Bells From The Deep: Faith And Superstition In Russia


A rare example of Herzog tackling the “ethnographic” corner of the documentary genre, with wonderfully mystical results! Herdsmen of the Sun tells of the Wodaabe tribe, a nomadic African community (self-described as “the most beautiful people on earth”) who annually practices a festival called Gerewol, in which females choose their mates from a lineup of super-elaborately adorned men with wild makeup, feathers and kaledoscopic robes draping their seven-foot frames. Starting with the first scene, Herzog accentuates the ethereal nature of this rite further by layering early 20th-century recordings of opera on the soundtrack; the film’s dreamlike depiction of a foreign people, very much at odds with the purist cinema vérité tradition of ethnography without adornment, is the embodiment of Herzog’s own “Minnesota Declaration”: that through “imagination and stylization”, there can be such a thing as a poetic, ecstatic truth. Riverting, singular and totally heartfelt.

Dir. Werner Herzog, 1989, DigiBeta, 52 min.

Watch an excerpt from “Wodabbe: Herdsmen of the Sun”!

YouTube Preview Image


A bit like a gentle Herzog take on the concept of a mondo film, Bells From The Deep is a catalogue of highly unusual religious practitioners and mystics throughout the whole of the Russian world, from bizarrely cocky Jesus impersonators to mass exorcisms, all the way through to meditating hordes that emit animal-like croaks to achieve a higher plane. Some highlighted personalities are truly off the wall, yet some are grounded in a startling reality, such as the Tuvan throat-singing plainsmen set against a backdrop of ice flows, or the humble servant of God who makes his meager living playing his church’s epic network of tower bells like a concert pianist (providing the film’s most haunting sequence.) As Herzog provides no narration or overt editorializing, the film’s primary objective becomes clear as its strange subjects speak for themselves: it’s not about the faith in question, but rather how unique of a road it takes to clarify it.

Dir. Werner Herzog, 1993, DigiBeta, 60 min.

Watch an excerpt from “Bells From the Deep”!

YouTube Preview Image