Whether it's pulling a three-story steamship over a muddy Peruvian hillside, profiling a man's kinship with grizzly bears or documenting fur trappers in the Siberian Taiga, legendary fillmmaker Werner Herzog is renowned for his gripping, unforgettable movies. Never one to shy away from strange territory, Herzog's latest project finds him in waters normally not charted by film legends: a public service announcement.
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"From One Second to the Next" is Herzog's new half-hour documentary about the dangers of texting and driving. Created after AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile approached him to make the film, the PSA is part of AT&T's "It Can Wait" campaign, which encourages drivers to pledge that "no text message, email, website or video is worth the risk of endangering my life or the lives of others on the road."
Like his previous films, Herzog brings the same emotional intensity to the documentary, creating a haunting and cerebral portrait of the victims of texting and driving accidents.
"I'm the right person because I don't need to show blood and gore and wrecked cars. What I wanted to do was show the interior side of the catastrophes," he told NPR's David Greene. "It's a deep raw emotion - the kind of deep wounds that are in those who were victims of accidents and also in those who were the perpetrators. Their life has changed and they are suffering forever. They have this sense of guilt that pervades every single action, every single day, every single dream and nightmare."
Unlike many PSAs, Herzog's eschews graphic visuals and flashy editing, instead opting for the slow burn of a longer narrative, where raw emotion has more space to unfold and ultimately sink in.
"Originally I was supposed to do four spots, 30 seconds long, but I immediately said these deep emotions, this inner landscape can only be shown if you have more time," he said. "You have to know the persons. You have to allow silences, for example, deep silences of great suffering."
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So far, "From One Second to the Next" has been viewed over 1.8 million times on YouTube. Herzog says the response has been overwhelming and that he's received hundreds of emails from parents and children.
"One teenage girl writes to me," he recalled, "‘I sat down my mother and I told her, ‘You are texting when you're taking me to school; you are not going to do that again.' My mother doesn't even take her cellphone with her [in the car] anymore.'"