the white diamond

Werner Herzog’s new film opened the 台灣國際紀錄片雙年展 Taiwan International Documentary Festival on Saturday. Last night under clouds that threatened rain for all 1 1/2 hours of the film, it was rescreened on the grass out front of Huashan.

Werner journeys to the Kaierteur Falls in Guyana with Dr. Graham Dorrington, an obsessive engineer who is still struggling with the death of filmmaker Dieter Plage in his earlier prototype airship in the Sumatran rainforest 12 years earlier. The White Diamond follows their expedition but is as much a psychological examination of the fragile and damaged individuals as it is of an improbable and miraculous white airship floating like some magical apparition in the haze of the jungle canopy.

On site in Guyana, Herzog stumbles upon a parallel story of loss and longing in the character of local Rastafarian Mark Anthony, a diamond miner who is a hired hand in the professor’s project. Anthony quietly and placidly reveals to Herzog the story of the loss of his family — eight brothers, two sisters and his mother — who have all emigrated to Spain and who he wishes to see more than anything else.

As Anthony watches the professor undertake test flights of the craft, he muses how he would like to fly the craft over the Atlantic Ocean and land on his family’s roof in Malaga, Spain, and say to them, “Hello, I am home.” Ultimately, there are two heroes in the film, Dorrington and Anthony. Dorrington overcomes his ghosts and past failures by fine-tuning his craft and successfully flying it around the jungle canopy with Herzog, who comes along for the ride to film.

Anthony, meanwhile, presents a figure of strength and perseverance, as well as deep wisdom. At one point, when Herzog poses an unusually banal question to him, Anthony flatly replies, “I cannot hear you for the thunder that you are,” effectively brushing off the director. He is clearly deeply appreciated by the crew for his composure and his optimism in the face of hardship. Finally, he’s offered a ride, after which he comments that his only regret was that his pet rooster wasn’t able to join him.