Burden of Dreams

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Burden of Dreams
Directed by Les Blank
Starring Claudia Cardinale
Werner Herzog
Mick Jagger
Klaus Kinski
Jason Robards
Candace Laughlin
Release dates
  • May 30, 1982 (1982-05-30)
Running time
95 min.
Country United States
Language Spanish/English/German/Portuguese

Burden of Dreams (1982) is a feature-length documentary and making-of directed by Les Blank, shot during and about the chaotic production of Werner Herzog's 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, filmed in the jungles of South America.

The film poster was created by Montana artist Monte Dolack and Eduardo Sanguinetti.

Due to his use of long, uninterrupted takes, his rejection of scripting set pieces and his films’ tendency to document without making overt arguments through narration, dramatic reinterpretation or other techniques, Les Blank’s work has often been tied to the cinema vérité documentary movement.

Blank himself has denied Burden of Dreams’ connections to cinema vérité. In a 2011 interview with Ben Terrall for the website El Cerrito Patch,[1] Blank discusses a film he is making about the vérité director Richard Leacock and says that Leacock argued that Blank was not a vérité director. Terrall writes that “Leacock criticized Blank for using lights and a tripod, but Blank said he [was] interested in using whatever tools [could] make his films better." Blank is quoted in the article as saying he is “sympathetic” to cinema vérité, but is not a purist.

Also contradicting Blank's classification as a vérité practitioner is his decision to have Herzog repeat statements he made off-camera while being filmed. In a 2009 interview with Jesse Pearson for Vice Magazine, Blank is asked to recall a scene in the film in which Herzog delivers a monologue about the violence and destruction of the jungle around him. Blank says that the scene originally took place in the middle of a canoe ride, away from cameras, but he liked the speech enough to coax it out of Herzog again. “When the moment was right,” Blank told Vice, “I pulled him aside and said, ‘Can I do a little interview?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ Goodwin led him around to something that sparked him off on that tangent again. That’s how we got the speech."[2]

Throughout production, Blank and his small crew were exhausted and exasperated, Blank specifically feeling “unconnected to the people around me”.[3] Keeping up with the antics of Herzog and Klaus Kinski (the film’s star) likewise proved difficult for the reserved, introverted Blank. By the last week of production, he was so burnt out that he feared coming out of production “like some Viet Nam veterans, horribly calloused,” writing in his journal a simple and blatant “I’m tired of it all and I couldn’t care less if they move the stupid ship – or finish the fucking film”.[4]

The film received the 1983 British Academy Film Award for Best Documentary and was named Best of Festival at the San Francisco Film Festival the same year.[5]


  1. ^ "El Cerrito Patch"
  2. ^ "Vice"
  3. ^ Blank, Les; Bogan, James (1984). Burden of dreams : screenplay, journals, reviews, photographs. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books. p. 86. ISBN 0-938190-17-2. 
  4. ^ Blank, Les; Bogan, James (1984). Burden of dreams : screenplay, journals, reviews, photographs. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books. pp. 112, 114. ISBN 0-938190-17-2. 
  5. ^ Benzine, Adam (5 February 2013). "Hot Docs to honour Blank". Playback (Brunico Communications). Retrieved 8 April 2013. 

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