In his documentaries, Werner Herzog has examined grizzly bears, plane crash survivors, cave paintings and death row inmates. For his latest project, the 70-year-old filmmaker is exploring the dangers of texting while driving in "From One Second to the Next," a 35-minute short film that emotionally recounts how lives have been forever changed by the issue.
"I knew I could do it because it has to do with catastrophic events invading a family," said Herzog, who has alternated between fiction ("Rescue Dawn") and non-fiction ("Grizzly Man") throughout his career. "In one second, entire lives are either wiped out or changed forever. That kind of emotional resonance is something that I knew I could cover."
Among the stories told are from a young man who, texting and driving, rear-ended an Amish buggy and killed three people. The impact of the crash sent the buggy hurtling 430 feet on the road. "I looked in the ditch, and there were bodies just laying there," Chandler Gerber recounted in the documentary. "It was silent."
The documentary, which tells the stories of both victims and perpetrators, will be available to watch Thursday at ItCanWait.com and distributed by AT&T to more than 40,000 high schools, as well as hundreds of safety organizations and government agencies.
What inspired the legendary filmmaker to direct what's essentially a public-service announcement?
"It always depends on the project itself," said the German-born filmmaker. "What AT&T proposed immediately clicked and connected inside of me. There's a completely new culture out there. I'm not a participant of texting and driving - or texting at all - but I see there's something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us."
The film expands on the 30-second commercials that the director of such critically acclaimed films as "Aguirre: The Wrath of God" created for the "It Can Wait" campaign, an initiative launched by AT&T to raise awareness about the topic. Herzog, who has spoken out about the intrusion of marketing in creative mediums, doesn't mind the sponsorship.
"It's very easy to reconcile that," said Herzog. "This has nothing to do with consumerism or being part of advertising products. This whole campaign is rather dissuading you from excessive use of a product. It's a campaign. We're not trying to sell anything to you. We're not trying to sell a mobile phone to you. We're trying to raise awareness."
"I see there's something going on in civilization which is coming with great vehemence at us."
For his next project, the director of "Into the Abyss" is returning to death row for a follow-up to his "On Death Row" series, and he's still hoping to make a film about the life of Middle East pioneer Gertrude Bell starring Naomi Watts and Robert Pattinson titled "Queen of the Desert." He said coordinating all the actors' schedules has made it difficult.