Werner Herzog is known for his insatiable wanderlust—just in the past decade, his work has taken him to such far-flung locations as Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Siberia. But no place on the planet is quite as central to his filmography as the Amazonian jungle, which serves as the setting of two of his most ambitious films—Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo—the latter of which was the result of an infamously arduous production captured in Les Blank’s Burden of Dreams. Now he’s headed back once again to direct a television series based on Greg Grandin’s Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City.
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, Fordlandia recounts the thwarted efforts of that iconic American capitalist Henry Ford to recreate, in 1927, a Midwestern-style town—paved streets with sidewalks and fire hydrants, a golf course, movie theaters, the works—on the banks of the Tapajós River, a major tributary of the Amazon in Brazil. The idea was to establish his own source of rubber for his cars, and he spent a quarter of a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation) on what would ultimately amount to a spectacular failure.
Reviewing the book for the New York Times in 2009, Ben Macintyre noted that this “blueprint may have worked in Ford’s River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich. It most emphatically did not work in the jungle. Instead of a miniature but improved North American city, what Ford created was a broiling, pestilential hellhole of disease, vice and violence, closer to Dodge City than peaceable Dearborn.” Macintyre added that “Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness resonates through every page.”
Fordlandia won’t be Herzog’s first work for television. Back in the 1970s, when he was emerging as one of the major directors of the New German Cinema, he made a few feature-length documentaries for West German television, and more recently, in 2012, his four-part documentary Death Row aired on a handful of networks around the world. But Fordlandia, to be adapted by screenwriter Christopher Wilkinson (Nixon, Ali), will be Herzog’s first foray into long-form narrative. And, as producer Ashok Amritraj tells Deadline’s Denise Petski, “The story of a tycoon with absolute power imposing his vision of America on the world is extremely relevant today.”
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