Werner Herzog Follows in the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin in His Eye-Opening Documentary
Multi-hyphenated award-winning German director, writer, author, and actor Werner Herzog once said, “the world reveals itself to those who traveled on foot.” His new documentary, Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019) turned heads at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival and Telluride last year. Taking along with him Chatwin’s treasured rucksack, Herzog retraced the footprints paved by his long-time friend and travel writer whose hunger for exploring the great unknown led him to become the world’s greatest voyager who later on defined the culture of nomadic traveling and what it means to be a wanderer after he embarked on a daring expedition to Patagonia in 1972. 30 years after his passing, Chatwin’s legacy remains very much alive and widely celebrated by travel and thrill-seeking enthusiasts.
A Nomad Living Off the Grid
The rapid pace of globalization and ever-evolving work culture have made it possible for people to freely live a certain lifestyle that is suitable to their needs, anywhere and everywhere their heart desires. This is called a nomadic lifestyle; fitting for free spirits who crave the freedom to live, work, travel, and make the world their own stomping ground. Bruce Chatwin was one of the pioneers of adopting a nomadic approach to living life to the fullest.
Chatwin is known for being an English travel writer, novelist, and journalist whose curiosity for untold stories of people and places from the hidden corners of the world inspired him to lead a life off the grid. Some of the notable accolades he has won were the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel On the Black Hill (1982), Man Booker Prize for his shortlisted novel Utz (1988), and was later dubbed by The Times in 2008 as one of the “50 Greatest British Writers since 1945.” After working at Sotheby’s where he developed an interest in art, he went on to study archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, but shortly realized his profound love for writing. He got his start as a writer at The Sunday Times Magazine in 1972 through which he had the opportunity to travel for work and interview prominent leaders such as Gandhi. When he left the publication, he took a trip to Patagonia that later on put him on the map as a remarkable globetrotter and travel writer. His other notable works of art include In Patagonia (1977), The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980), and The Songlines (1987). Chatwin’s writings usually discuss humans’ hunger for exploration, world’s geographical borders as well as art and objects.
Life Without Borders
This documentary, whether intentional or not, mimicked Chatwin’s literary masterpiece In Patagonia (1977) by partitioning each story into eight chapters and giving emphasis to the eccentric people, adventurers, and understanding of human existence. Herzog and Chatwin’s shared fascination of aboriginal cultures, tribe rituals, and the great unknown inspired him to travel to Patagonia, Wales, and Australia to experience Chatwin’s quests first-hand, and at the same time reconnecting with the people whom the explorer crossed paths with in his travels to get a deeper grasp of his life and achievements throughout his time circumnavigating the world.
Couldn’t have come at a better time as it allows us to escape reality for a while and travel to these uncharted territories
With months spent in isolation triggered by this relentless pandemic and the psychological effect of cabin fever undeniably crawling in our skin, what used to be a freely given right to explore the great outdoors has been completely taken away from us. Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019) couldn’t have come at a better time as it allows us to escape reality for a while and travel to these uncharted territories and exotic places at the comfort of our home. Herzog artistically captured the landscapes, artifacts, and places that Chatwin studied and loved so dearly while accompanying it with compelling personal stories of family and friends, videos of cultural rituals, shipwrecks, spaceships, cave etchings, and travel photographs taken by Chatwin himself that add soul and depth to what could typically be a mundane and ordinary encounter to many.
Unlike most documentaries these days that focus more on the action and spectacle, Herzog took his time to dissect Chatwin’s life from various perspectives of those who knew him and incorporate stimulating knowledge of the same caliber as educational shows such as National Geographic or Discovery Channel. Although, it’s worth mentioning that this kind of lengthy reflective meditation may oftentimes become tedious for the viewer to digest and pay attention to, which occasionally was the case as I was watching it. Nonetheless, Herzog’s passion, enthusiasm, and dedication towards truthfully telling Chatwin’s legacy and his personal journey in all its glory manifested in every frame.
Chatwin’s progressive ideologies and beliefs serve as a paradigm of human consciousness that shaped the unique lifestyles we enjoy today. Even though he succumbed to AIDS at such a young age, he took life by the hand, laughed in the face of fear, and seized every opportunity to live an enriching and substantial life with the limited time he had.
Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019) is distributed by Music Box Films and will be screened on select theaters and virtual cinemas from August 26, 2020.