Werner Herzog at CCA: Film's Cinema Visionaries Series Shines

In December 2012, luminary filmmaker Werner Herzog (third from right) taught a Film master class at CCA.

Last fall, on December 4, 2012, the Film Program, in association with CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, brought renowned German film director, producer, screenwriter, actor, and opera director Werner Herzog to California College of the Arts as a featured guest in its Cinema Visionaries lecture series.

Often considered one of the greatest figures of the New German Cinema, French filmmaker François Truffaut once called Herzog "the most important film director alive."

View images from the event »

About Cinema Visionaries

The innovative Cinema Visionaries brings filmmaking luminaries to CCA for public lectures and master classes. The series launched in the 2010-11 academic year with a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and is now made possible thanks to the generous support of Carla Emil and Rich Silverstein.

Leaders in Cinema Here at CCA

Herzog is just one of half a dozen other respected, diverse cinematic artists whose participation in the Cinema Visionaries lecture series has made it so successful:

Gus Van Sant

Gus Van Sant: Good Will Hunting (1997); Elephant (2003); Paris, je t'aime (2006); Milk (2008)

Lourdes Portillo

Lourdes Portillo: Las madres de la Plaza de Mayo (1985); Señorita Extraviada, Missing Young Woman (2001); My McQueen (2004); Al Más Allá (2008); Night Passages (2013)

Barry Jenkins

Barry Jenkins: Medicine for Melancholy (2008) was hailed as one of the best films of 2009 in the New York Times.
View images of Barry Jenkins at CCA »

John Waters

John Waters: Pink Flamingos (1972); Female Trouble (1974); Polyester (1981); Hairspray (1988); Cry Baby (1990); Serial Mom (1994); A Dirty Shame (2004)
View images of John Waters at CCA »

Barbara Hammer

Barbara Hammer: Nitrate Kisses (1992); its sequel, Tender Fictions (1996); Dyketactics (1974)
View images of Barbara Hammer at CCA »

Sam Green

Sam Green: The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller (2012); The Weather Underground (2004) was nominated for an Academy Award and included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.
View images of Sam Green at CCA »

Diversity on Screen and Off

The Cinema Visionaries programming has also been notably successful in presenting tremendous diversity among its invited filmmakers in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

The diversity of the artists' work, too, has provided students with a wide array of cultural informing and artistic visions (and techniques). CCA is committed to integrating diversity into its curriculum to illustrate the many perspectives artists from diverse backgrounds offer.

Learning from the Masters

CCA's inaugural Cinema Visionaries event took place January 25, 2011. It featured maverick film director Gus Van Sant. Film Program chair Rob Epstein, who has twice been honored with an Oscar for Best Documentary [The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), with Richard Schmiechen; and Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt (1989), with Bill Couturié] adds, "As an artist, Gus Van Sant's films run the gamut from experimental to mainstream hits so, with that, he brought a very special wealth of experience and knowledge to our campus."

An Interview with Brook Hinton, Film Co-Chair

The late American film critic Roger Ebert once stated Herzog "has never created a single film that is compromised, shameful, made for pragmatic reasons, or uninteresting. Even his failures are spectacular."

We turned to Film Program co-chair Brook Hinton to ask him about the extraordinary opportunity students received not only from Herzog's lecture, but also from the master class he taught during his visit.

[Jim Norrena]: What does it mean to prospective students that someone like Werner Herzog has taught a master class here?

[Brook Hinton]: Students in many schools may be exposed to prominent guests through lecture programs, but students studying in the Film Program at CCA (and now in the MFA in Film program) benefit from our careful curation of the Cinema Visionaries lecture series.

Herzog is not just a successful filmmaker responsible for great films: He is a fiercely curious and dedicated student of life whose work flows from a deep concern with the human condition and whose practice continues to evolve.

Like Gus Van Sant, John Waters, and other directors we’ve featured in the series, Herzog was able to offer students something far beyond the typical "here's how I did it" master class.

He challenged them to understand the deeper connections between their work and the world in which it exists.

[JN]: How did the students in the master class respond to such a maverick film director?

[BH]: Students were intimidated at the beginning of the class, simply due to the fact that they had to get over the fact that it was really him! That voice! His own films, right there on his laptop!

But he was so generous and direct that by the end of the master class, students were asking for, and receiving, fantastic advice on very specific aspects of their current projects.

[JN]: What impressed you most about Mr. Herzog's visit? What about other noteworthy guests?

[BH]: Every master class has been unique, and so far every one of them has been of incredible benefit to the students. What impressed me most about Herzog was his generosity -- his willingness to really listen to the students and understand what each was trying to accomplish.

His public lecture provided a fantastic model of a great artistic mind at work: rather than just show clips and share stories, he read from texts that currently inspire him, then used them as a springboard to investigate a dizzying array of subjects that all somehow came back, in the end, to the central issue of making films as a life practice.

All of our guests are selected in part based on a capacity to illuminate the practice of filmmaking in a larger context.

Sam Green, another outstanding guest we hosted this year, found a way to both discuss his new performance cinema work and to use it as a springboard to discuss the challenges faced by contemporary filmmakers in the digital age, where the theatrical film is no longer necessarily the goal or end-stage of a filmmaker's work.

[JN]: What is the greatest value of Cinema Visionaries?

[BH]: I don't think there is a single "greatest value."

We serve an incredibly diverse body of student filmmakers who produce work across the entire spectrum of moving image practice.

Our hope is that each of them takes something significant away from their interaction with these great artists -- but also that we are presenting artists who are capable of communicating their experience and wisdom in such a manner that each student is taking something different away from the encounter . . . something uniquely relevant to their own artistic development.

About CCA's Film Programs

Film Program

In CCA's undergraduate Film Program, mastering the fundamentals is only the beginning. We help you move beyond convention to break new ground in storytelling and the art of filmmaking -- on the big screen, on small screens, and beyond.

MFA in Film

To build a successful life and career as a filmmaker today, you must be an artist, a craftsperson, and an entrepreneur. Our MFA in Film program encourages you to continuously question and refine your ideas and working methods, while strengthening your intuitive and conceptual capabilities.