Werner Herzog: The Minnesota Declaration

Lessons of Darkness

1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.

2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verité declared publicly that truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents the amount of written law and legal procedures. “For me,” he says, “there should be only one single law; the bad guys should go to jail.” Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time.

3. Cinema Verité confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.

4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination.

5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached only through fabrication and imagination and stylization.

6. Filmmakers of Cinema Verité resemble tourists who take pictures of ancient ruins of facts.

7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue.

8. Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pressure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: “You can’t legislate stupidity.”

9. The gauntlet is herby thrown down.

10. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn’t call, doesn’t speak to you, although a glacier eventually farts. And don’t you listen to the Song of Life.

11. We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile.

12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of permanent and immediate danger. So much of hell that during evolution some species—including man—crawled, fled onto some small continents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue.


With the arrival of the new term “alternative facts” in the political arena, the question of facts and the question of truth have acquired an unexpected urgency.

Facts cannot be underestimated as they have normative power. But they do not give us insight into the truth, or the illumination of poetry. Yes, accepted, the phone directory of Manhattan contains four million entries, all of them factually verifiable. But do we know why Jonathan Smith, correctly listed, cries into his pillow every night?

The argument of rearranging facts constituting a lie points only to shallow thinking and the fetish of self-reference.

Patron Saints of the Minnesota Declaration:

William Shakespeare: “The most truthful poetry is the most feigning.”

André Gide: “I modify facts in such a way that they resemble truth more than reality.”

Taking a good look at his statue of the Pietà, we notice that Jesus taken from the cross is a man of 33, but his mother is only 17.

Does Michelangelo lie to us? Does he mislead us? Does he defraud us?

He just shows us the innermost truth about the Man of Sorrows, and his mother, the Virgin.

Original declaration delivered April 30, 1999, Walker Art Center
Addendum delivered, Jun 19, 2017, Walker Art Center


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