Werner Herzog’s Fascination With ‘What Goes on in Our Minds’ Inspired Brain-Science Doc ‘Theater of Thought’ (Video)

TIFF 2022: The writer-director discussed his upcoming projects and why he chose to self-finance his latest documentary

Werner Herzog is the writer and director of nearly 80 films, not including the countless others that live inside his head. The brain’s astonishing capacity for such ideas – among many other things – is the subject of the German auteur’s latest documentary, “Theater of Thought,” which premiered at Telluride and screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Herzog stopped by TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio at TIFF to discuss what he learned during the filmmaking process and more.

“There was always a deep fascination about what goes on in our minds: what makes us love, fall in love, hatred, language, architecture, our ideas, our movies, everything,” Herzog told Sharon Waxman, Editor and CEO of TheWrap. “And it’s all created in our brains.”

Though Herzog considers himself a “curious man” and has always had “a sense of awe” about the inner workings of the mind, the lightning bolt moment came from someone else: Columbia University neurobiologist and scholar Rafael Yuste.

“‘Oh, we should think about doing a film on the brain and what is going on and the research,’” Herzog recalled of their phone conversation. Five minutes later, Herzog was all in. “I said, ‘Let’s do it, Let’s not wait for finances.’”

Worried that COVID restrictions, which had just lifted, would return in a matter of weeks, the filmmaker and the scholar set out to visit the people and institutions revolutionizing the field: universities, IBM, Facebook and more. To understand how the brain processes fear, he spoke to his friend, famed Twin Towers tightrope walker Philippe Petit.

“I wanted to know why is he not afraid,” Herzog explained. “I’m not afraid. Fear is very, very limited in me … When you do films, you need some courage.”

The director emphasized that while the documentary is grounded in scientific inquiry, it’s intended as “a flame that is passed on to audiences.”

“The film is not only about science … If you do a film like that, it’s going to dust out of your ears like old newspapers, piles of old newspapers,” he said, adding: “ [With] ‘Theater of Thought,’ you always see the fun of filmmaking, celebrating the joy of filmmaking.”

Herzog also teased some of his upcoming projects: in addition to the volcanologist documentary “The Fire Within,” he’s in pre-production on “two or three narrative feature films” and is toying with releasing a book of poetry and returning to acting, “probably as a villain.”

Where his own mind is concerned, said Herzog: “I never can catch up with it.”

Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.