Burden of Dreams

Synopsis: A documentary on the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's epic Fitzcarraldo (1982), showing how the film managed to get made despite problems that would have floored a less obsessively driven director. Not only does he have major casting problems, losing both Jason Robards (health) and Mick Jagger (other commitments) halfway through shooting, but the crew gets caught up in a war between Peru and Ecuador, there are problems with the weather and the morale of cast and crew is falling rapidly.
Genre: Documentary
Director(s): Les Blank
Production: Flower Films
  4 wins & 1 nomination.
Rotten Tomatoes:
95 min

You wanted to know the story of Fitzcarraldo.

It's a strange story-

a little bit Sisyphus-like story or...

a story of, uh,

challenge of the impossible.

The title itself-

I will start with that -

uh, is derived from

an Irish name - Fitzgerald.

The leading character's name is

Bryan Sweeney Fitzgerald.

And since nobody can pronounce

his name in the Amazon here...

he calls himself Fitzcarraldo, and he also

founds a town with the name Fitzcarraldo.

There was a historical figure whose

name was Carlos Fermn Fitzcarrald...

a caucho baron.

I must say the story of this caucho baron

did not interest me so much.

What interested me more

was one single detail.

That was, uh,

that he crossed an isthmus...

from one river system into another...

uh, with a boat.

They disassembled the boat and -

and put it together again on the other river.

And, uh, that intrigued me to write a story

about big opera in the jungle...

and, uh, about a man

who wants to bring Caruso...

into Iquitos and build

a huge opera house.

And he fails to -

to get the money for it...

and so finally he decides

to make his fortune as a rubber baron.

And, uh, he buys a territory

which is out of reach...

because there are

very, very strong rapids...

and you can't move a big boat

into the upper tributary.

Um, and for exploiting

an area like this...

you need a big boat

for all the logistics and transports and so.

And what he does, actually, is that

he moves in a - in a parallel tributary...

because he knows there

is one geographical point...

where the two river systems

almost join.

There's only

one or two miles in between.

And with the help of, uh,

1,100 savage Indians...

he moves the boat across the -

this mountain ridge.

But it all fails because

the Indians release the boat.

They untie it,

and it floats downstream...

and it crashes through the rapids

and everything was in vain.

And still,

with that defeat...

Fitzcarraldo is able to turn it

in some kind of a victory-

a very painful one, and...

that's basically the story of the film.

I did not know exactly

in which territory I would end up.

Basically we had to make

a geographical decision...

where we had two rivers

very, very near to each other...

with only a mountain in between.

Less than a mile apart.

And they had to be navigable as well.

So we had very, very few options...

and wherever we would end up...

I would try to get acquainted with

the native Indians in the territory itself.

In November, 1979...

Herzog builds a camp for cast and crew...

in the dense tropical rain forest

close to the Ecuadorean border.

The geography is perfect, but Herzog

has walked into the middle of a tense situation.

Twenty-five miles from here, Peru and Ecuador

are building up to a small border war.

Thejungle is full of soldiers,

and the Aguaruna Indians...

who have lived here

for hundreds of years, are touchy.

To make matters worse,

the Peruvian government...

has been encouraging settlers

to move into thejungle-

a process the Indians are powerless to stop

without legal title to the land.

Lumber and oil interests are encroaching

on this part of the forest as well.

The Amazon jungle is disappearing fast.

Every month,

8,000 square miles are cut down.

At the present rate,

by the year 2010...

the entire Amazon basin

will be cleared.

The ongoing invasion of thejungle

has made the Aguaruna Indians...

see every stranger as a threat.

But Herzog assures them

that he's not moving in permanently...

and the local Aguarunas

agree to let him shoot.

Herzog needs Indians

as actors and laborers...

and the Aguarunas

agree to that as well.

From the start...

- they never considered

that the communities here...

Had their own authorities.

They never respected

the organizations that are here.

Although Herzog has reached

an agreement with the local Aguarunas...

he soon finds himself tangled

in a complicated power struggle.

A newly formed tribal council

from downriver...

is trying to establish political leadership

for all the Indian communities in the area.

The council members see Herzog's film

as a perfect opportunity to cement their position.

After shooting the film,

when they take it to Europe...

it could show how the Aguarunas

and Huambisas were exploited and killed...

during the time of the caucho.

It could give that impression.

We don't like that.

That's why we reject it.

Not everyone supports the Aguaruna council.

Although Herzog

is only paying 3.50 a day...

it's twice the going wage

for Indian labor.

- Nelson is one of

the Aguaruna leaders...

who think the Indians should continue working

for Herzog and his producer, Walter Saxer.

The tribal council has put out a warrant

for his arrest, charging him with treason.

Death threats are being made

against him and the film company.

Nelson's mother is frightened.

- What's she saying?

- She says...

that you who work

for the company...

are at fault for what

has happened to Nelson...

because you want

to take him with you.

She doesn't want Nelson to go.

We support Nelson. It's an unjust thing...

and she shouldn't worry.

We'll do all we can to clear up

this situation once and for all.

Nelson can't be guilty.

It's just not his fault.

We'll continue to protect your son.

The rumors

the Aguaruna spread who were against us...

uh, for example,

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Michael Goodwin

Michael Kemper Goodwin (April 28, 1939 – May 4, 2011) was an architect in the Phoenix, Arizona area. He also served two terms in the Arizona House of Representatives in the 1970s. more…

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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