Werner Herzog, visiting Minneapolis for a public dialogue with critic Roger Ebert, took to the stage of the Walker Cinema on April 30, 1999, to read a new writing. Subtitled Lessons of Darkness, his Minnesota Declaration outlined his principles around truth and fact in documentary cinema. In commemoration of the document’s 18th anniversary, we invited the celebrated filmmaker to reconsider his influential manifesto in light of concepts around truth making headlines today—notably “alternative facts” and “fake news.” His response: the following six-point addendum to the Minnesota Declaration.
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.