Werner Herzog’s long and wildly varied career has earned him the status of ‘legend’ among documentarians and features directors alike. In his latest doc, he examines the use of the death penalty in Texas by looking at one particularly thoughtless, brutal crime – a triple homicide over a stolen car — committed by Conroe, Texas resident and Death Row inmate Michael Perry. We got to speak to Herzog about his thoughts on the controversial issue.
In the film, you make it very clear that you are against capital punishment. In the end, it seems that you present both sides. How did you find the audience’s reaction to be?
It always starts up a lively discussion about it. And I think it is good. Of course, let me make my position clear. Being a guest in your country, I respectfully disagree with the practice of capital punishment. You see, as a German, you can’t expect me to tell the American people how to handle criminal suspects.
Understandable. Do you find that most people believe that it’s been a fair and balanced portrayal of both sides of the issue?
It’s a film about a senseless crime and all of the repercussions. It is more like an American Gothic. It just has a little side that deals with capital punishment as well. But it deals to a large degree also, with the families of victims of violent crimes.
What do you think is the relationship between the rural poverty we see in the film and the fact that it exists in a state that has capital punishment?
Actually, Texas is a very wealthy state, but of course there is poverty as well. And in the prison population in general, not only those on death rows, you have an over-representation of impoverished families who would end up in prison. So statistically speaking, there are inequalities. And of course, it is a problem of society and it is not going to go away quickly.
There are so many serendipitous moments in this movie. How do you manage to capture them on film?
There is a clear answer to that. I am a director. I am a storyteller. I am searching. People sometimes hear from documentary filmmakers… [they think] we should be completely absent and we certainly like to fly on the wall. But do you want to be the security camera in Walmart, for example, and let them make the movie?