Shot in 3D, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is the first, and likely to be the only film of the Chauvet Cave. Situated in southern France and named after the leader of the expedition that discovered it in 1994, the Chauvet Cave is home to the oldest known cave paintings by far, dating back an astonishing 32,000 years, to a time when when mammoths roamed Europe.
Acclaimed director Werner Herzog played a pivotal role in the project. He was permitted to film inside the cave, but even then only under the tightest of restrictions. Access to the Chauvet Cave is strictly rationed in order to best preserve the incredible wall paintings. The German director and his crew were given six days to shoot, and just four hours on each of those days, and when inside they were not permitted to step off the 60cm-wide walkway which keeps visitors from destroying human and animal tracks remaining from tens of thousands of years ago.
Discovered in 1994, the anthropological value of the Chauvet Cave was quickly realized and access was restricted to members of the scientific community, meaning that when Herzog embarked on his quest to capture the cave on film, he was perhaps the first individual with a purely artistic background to cast an eye over its incredible interiors. Herzog has revealed that he was able to beat off native competition to shoot in the Chauvet Cave by offering to direct for a nominal one-Euro fee, and then to donate the finished film to the French Ministry of Culture to use as an educational tool.
The time restrictions on Herzog and his team gave them a mere 24 hours in total to shoot within the Chauvet Cave, and this stress was on top of the pressures of shooting in 3D, an approach the director describes as “imperative” to the project. Comparing himself and his team to surgeons conducting open heart surgery, the director stressed that “you have to perform and you have to perform fast” in such testing circumstances.
The movie refrains from speculating on why the tapestry of cave paintings might have been created, with Herzog adamant that “the mystery that surrounds [the reasons for those paintings] will be there forever.” Instead of attempting to offer explanations, he claimed he was instead trying “to evoke a spirited parallel response” within his audience, making them feel a similar sense of wonder to that experienced by those fortunate few allowed in the cave.
Interested in learning more about caves? Check out the Museum’s national traveling exhibit: In the Dark. It explores the dark of caves, dense forests, the deep sea and more! In the Dark is in the Museum’s East Gallery until September 15. Check it out!
Friday, July 12, 7p
Saturday, July 13, 6p & 8p
Sunday, July 14, 5p