While accepting a Lifetime Achievement award at the 8th Dubai International Film Festival, Werner Herzog gave an update on his biopic about Gertrude Bell, the turn-of-the-century English writer, traveler and archeologist he calls “the female Lawrence of Arabia.” No doubt delighting his Middle Eastern hosts, the German auteur declared his ambition to shoot at least part of “Queen of the Desert” – which has Naomi Watts provisionally attached to star – in Dubai. Still lining up the financing, Herzog revealed that at least part of the film will be shot in Jordan. Asked about the prospect of shooting in the U.A.E., Herzog said he was impressed by the federation’s “wonderful deserts” and Dubai itself as “a dream invented by a poet; it is a poetry that all of a sudden materialized in 10 years.”
Anyone familiar with Herzog’s florid voiceovers, frequently the highlight of his documentaries, will know he’s not just blowing smoke. Flattery can get you everywhere in the world of film production, as Werner is well aware… The most ambitious of U.A.E.’s seven states, Dubai rolled out a lush red carpet when Tom Cruise and director Brad Bird rolled into town for the “Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol” shoot. Landing a prize filmmaker like Herzog for one of his most ambitious projects in years would be another coup, even if the desert metropolis’ glitzy, modern skyline couldn’t play a part in his period adventure.
“It is not only the landscape,” Herzog said. “A film needs the infrastructure, and Dubai with its modernity, connections and functioning systems provides the right infrastructure for filmmaking.”
In describing his Bell epic, Herzog says his intention is to make a film that’s much more reflective of the Arab world than Lawrence Of Arabia, a film the German filmmaker calls “very immature… Queen Of The Desert will talk about Islam, Bedouins and the dignity of the Arab World, which is not found in Lawrence of Arabia – I don’t pretend to be an Arab but I see things here with great fascination and sympathy.”
Herzog, who will celebrate his 70th birthday in 2012, also smilingly rebuffed any notion that his DIFF award means the end is nigh. The director of “Grizzly Man,” “Fitzcarraldo” and the Death Row documentary “Into The Abyss,” which screened at the festival, joked “this is not my funeral.” Besides “Queen Of The Desert,” he’s putting the finishing touches on Death Row, a four-part TV documentary expanding on the capital-punishment themes of “Into The Abyss,” and was recently in Pittsburgh shooting a role as the chief villain opposite Tom Cruise in action thriller “One Shot.”
Herzog was joined by veteran Egyptian actor Gamil Rateb and Indian composer A.R. Rahman in receiving DIFF’s lifetime achievement honour.