The film-maker talks about his Berlin competition entry.

Werner Herzog’s Berlin competition entry Queen of the Desert, about the British writer, archaeologist and explorer Gertrude Bell, proved a novel experience for the iconic director.

“I didn’t know Gertrude Bell before a friend of mine told me about her,” the German director told Screen.

“I knew within 20 minutes of sifting through her letters that this subject was so big… The biggest challenge was to condense the life of a person of such complexity.”

Herzog related to Bell, who seemingly felt most comfortable among the Bedouin desert community: “Yes, to some degree there is a distant echo of her in me but there’s also a distant echo in me of Fitzcarraldo and other characters.”

The film is one of the director’s first narrative features to focus on a female lead.

“It never occurred to me that this was a first narrative feature about a woman. A number of people have mentioned this. I have made a number of documentaries about very strong female characters.”

Herzog first played in Berlin’s competition in 1968 with his first ever feature film Signs of Life.

“The Berlinale refused so many of my films: Aguirre, The Enigma of Kasper Hauser and others. They didn’t want my films. Now, since Dieter Kosslick, I am all of a sudden back in competition,” he smiled.

The director also mentioned that the premiere of Queen of the Desert was briefly interrupted by an anti-Islam heckler.

In light of recent political turmoil, Herzog wanted to portray the Bedouin and Islam in a positive light:

“I took this [the heckler] as something significant. There are too many people out there with Islamophoic views. You see it in Dresden, in France. It’s good that I made this film and could show the dignity and beauty and poetry of the Bedouins and their respect for Islam.”​