Werner Herzog is having one helluva 2011. His 3D documentary "Cave Of Forgotten Dreams" has been an arthouse smash hit, still playing theaters (in Montreal where this writer is from, it was brought back for as second run due to popular demand -- that pretty much never happens) and in the best casting news of the year, Herzog landed the villain role opposite Tom Cruise in the thriller "One Shot." Just typing that out still makes our mind reel. He hit TIFF last month with his new documentary "Into The Abyss," and while Sundance Selects were going to wait until 2012 to release it, Herzog has twisted their arm to get into the theaters a little bit sooner. Like next month.
Seeing the current debate over the execution of Troy Davis, Werner Herzog believes that the time to strike with his death row documentary is now, not in 2012. And Sundance Selects agreed with president Jonathan Sehring telling Pete Hammond, “It’s a very crowded year for documentaries but our minds have been changed for us. Do I love our original plan for releasing next year? Yes. Have I been swayed and think we’re doing the right thing? Yes. And I can say 99 out of 100 times I would not respond that way. It’s rare that filmmaker can convince an entire company that our distribution plan is wrong and his is right.”
Herzog's film, which we were bummed to miss at TIFF, dives into the lives of a pretty hardened bunch, focusing on two men convicted of triple murder, another who killed his girlfriend and her two mentally retarded sons, and a woman—one of only 10 on Texas’ death row—charged with abducting a newborn baby and killing the child’s mother. But it’s not just the perpetrators of the crimes getting face time with Herzog as he also reaches out to their families as well as the victims to paint a portrait of the ripple effects of crime and punishment. It's said to be Herzog's most straightforward doc of his career -- no mutant alligators or voiceover here -- it should add a powerful element to the ongoing discussion about the death penalty. "Into The Abyss" will start rolling out on November 11th in New York and Los Angeles with more cities likely to follow. And if you're wondering what Herzog's take on the issue is, he said in a statement: “A State should not be allowed – under any circumstance – to execute anyone for any reason. End of story.”
Moving on to lighter fare, Lasse Hallstrom's "Salmon Fishing In Yemen" but up good notices at TIFF, earmarked as a surprisingly funny and pleasant little trifle from the director. And even though CBS Films tells Deadline that "it has awards potential but [they] didn’t want to make it a contender this late in the year," they have given them movie a March 2, 2012 date. Of course, the awards season is justing heating up and it's not too late to add anything, but the real reason that 'Salmon' is staying out of the fray is likely because it's just not a prestige pic plain and simple.
Based on Paul Torday‘s best-selling novel, and penned by “Slumdog Millionaire” scribe Simon Beaufoy, the film stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt and tells the story of a scientist (McGregor) who’s brought to Yemen to, yes, help introduce salmon to the Highland waters of the country, but who falls for the aide of the sheik (Blunt). The movie will enter a crowded weekend that also has the low budget Todd Phillips produced comedy "Project X," "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters," Jason Statham's "Safe" and "The Lorax" but this will be the only aimed squarely at adults, so it's a good play.