What do radioactive albino crocodiles have to do with President Daniele Struppa? That question may never be answered, but it was one of many topics film director Werner Herzog discussed at “A Celebration of Creativity in the Arts,” a tribute to Struppa from the Chapman art, film, dance and language programs Sept. 29 at the Musco Center.
Each of the evening’s works were centered around the interests of Struppa. Herzog was invited to be the keynote speaker for the event after Struppa told Jeff Tollaksen, professor and Chapman’s director of the Institute of Quantum Studies, that Herzog was his favorite filmmaker.
“I went with President Struppa to Israel, just the two of us, for research, and I asked him, ‘What would make you most happy during your inaugural week?’” Tollaksen said. “Daniele said, ‘Well, my favorite film director is Werner Herzog.’”
Fortunately for Struppa, Tollaksen said he has known Herzog for years, so convincing him to come to Chapman wasn’t a problem, said Tollaksen.
“I’m very thrilled that I could do something to make Daniele happy. He works so hard; it’s incredible. It’s the least I could do,” Tollaksen said.
Herzog discussed albino crocodiles in between accolades for Struppa, when he showed a clip from the postscript of his documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” as an example of perception in Herzog’s films.
The clip takes place in southern France in a “biosphere” created by the warm water from a nearby nuclear power plant in which crocodiles have come to live. Some of the young crocodiles are albino and Herzog suspects it is due to the proximity of the power plant. In the clip Herzog contemplates how the young mutant crocodiles see and understand the world.
Herzog even spoke directly to Struppa on more than one occasion during the event Thursday. Herzog introduced a clip of “Fitzcarraldo,” one of Struppa’s favorite films, and played clips of two films that Herzog directed that have not yet been released to the public: “Into the Inferno,” a documentary on various active volcanoes around the world and the spiritual beliefs they have inspired, and “Salt and Fire,” a film starring Michael Shannon about a scientist who must join forces with the head of a large company to avoid disaster when a volcano shows signs of erupting.
“This in particular is for you Daniele, my president,” Herzog said.
The event also featured an interpretive dance to the reading of the famous Italian poem “L’Infinito,” coupled with a musical composition inspired by the poem, which was composed by Sean Heim, director of music theory and composition at Chapman.
“The evening is about creativity, to make sure that in the inauguration week there is an evening to acknowledge the openness and sensibility toward the creative world that Struppa has,” said Federico Pacchioni, a professor of Italian studies who presented “L’Infinito.”
Pacchioni said that the poem was also chosen with the thought of entertaining Struppa and reflecting on his academic prowess.
“(The poem) is a meditation on the experience of immensity that can be translated also to Struppa and his openness to different disciplines and his undying curiosity for knowledge and exploration,” Pacchioni said.
Both Pacchioni and Tollaksen said that planning for the elaborate event originally began in January, and involved significant planning, as well as intensive rehearsal.
The sold-out event consisted of a mix of students, faculty and Chapman community members. The students ranged from film students attending to see a major industry figure to dance majors attending to support their fellow dancers. One of these students was junior dance major Quinn Foster.
“The choreography was really difficult, but they just made it look amazing, and with the music it really worked well,” Foster said.