Paul Clark's thoughts after attending an Ernie Gehr screening and Q&A got me thinking about the two times I've seen Werner Herzog at such an event (he was invited by Williams College to appear as part of a documentary forum in 2006, accidentally arrived a year early, hung around for a few days, then returned the next year). During that first visit, on a Friday afternoon, Herzog screened a documentary about the scoring of Grizzly Man at the cinema where I work as a projectionist (we were treated to an advanced screening of the film the night before, and on Friday night we saw a rough cut of The Wild Blue Yonder before his investors). With most people at work, only a handful showed up for the making-of screening, so the Q&A was more conversational. I decided to ask Herzog about the final shot of Stroszek, one of the greatest and most elusive endings ever - why a chicken? Herzog explained, simply, that he never makes a cut before he loses interest in an image, and the shot runs as long as it does because he just found that dancing chicken so damned interesting. It was an unpretentious, insightful answer, and now that I've started to make my own films, it's guided me through many a tough directorial decision.
The next year, when Herzog appeared at the "Extreme Documentary" forum, one audience member asked him what he thought about YouTube.
Let that sink in for a moment - he asked the director of Aguirre the Wrath of God about a site where people post videos of their babies farting.
I agree wholeheartedly with Clark's assertion that films are best experienced viscerally and psychologically - I want to see the world through the filmmaker's eyes (as Clark eloquently describes the moviegoing experience). While an intellectual understanding of the filmmaking process greatly helps one articulate one's response to a film, knowledge should never supercede understanding. Especially if you end up standing in front of a living legend, with one chance to ask him about anything at all, and you ask about a frigging website (although Herzog gave a hilarious answer about Bavarian teens recording their sexual exploits with cell phone cameras, which he called "beautiful"). I far prefer canonical to topical analysis, which could explain why I reacted so strongly to my peer's question. Or maybe he was just a schmo. Could be both.
What are your best/worst Q&A experiences? And if you could ask your favorite filmmaker one thing, what would it be?