Herzog and Burns To Share the Stage

It’s not often that two prominent filmmakers are seen together in conversation on stage in this region, but on Saturday audiences have the chance to see Ken Burns and Werner Herzog discuss their approach to documentary film in “From Grizzlies to Gettysburg” in Spaulding Auditorium at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College. It’s the first time that the two filmmakers have appeared together at the college.

Burns is famous for his made-for-television multi-part series that explore such different periods and facets of American history as the Civil War, baseball, the founding of the national parks, jazz, Prohibition and the Dust Bowl. Herzog, who is at the college as a Montgomery Fellow, is famous for taking on such disparate topics as a Vietnam veteran who was a prisoner of war, the death penalty, the cave paintings of Paleolithic people, and most recently a portrait of people affected by catastrophic deaths and injuries resulting from texting while driving.

In style and approach, the two filmmakers could not seem more different, said Bill Pence, director of film at the Hopkins Center. “It’s very important to Ken that every detail is explained and understood; he’s incredibly thorough.”

Herzog is as thorough but he’s not after facts in quite the same way: intuitive and imaginative truths play an important role, and his own narrative voice is as important to his films as are the multiple historical voices and points-of-view that weave together Burns’ work. “Roger Ebert once said that we’re so interested in a Herzog subject because he’s so passionately interested,” Pence said.

But “in terms of the quality and excellence in their work, they’re really quite equivalent,” Pence added. “They’re really highly regarded not only by the critical world in film but by the public at large.” Both are also long-time supporters and attendees at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, of which Pence was a founder.

Not only will Herzog and Burns take questions from the audience but they’ll direct questions at each other about their work. Clips from their films will be shown, as well as excerpts from new work that hasn’t yet been screened publicly.

“We’re trying to make some interesting parallels and divergences,” Pence said. “This will be a very rare event. We’re quite proud to be able to pull it off.”

From Grizzlies to Gettysburg: Ken Burns and Werner Herzog Talk Shop,” a public discussion, is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Saturday in Spaulding Auditorium. Tickets are $8, and $5 for students and children age 12 and under. For more information, go to hop.dartmouth.edu.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.