Meeting Gorbachev: Herzog and Singer’s Affectionate Docu

Werner Herzog and André Singer’s documentary, Meeting Gorbachev, based on three long interviews and archival footage, sheds light on one of the world’s greatest living politician.
Now 87 and battling illness, the visionary Mikhail Gorbachev, the former
General Secretary of the U.S.S.R, has mellowed and slowed down. Still, gently but resolutely, he is pushing towards his goals.
Herzog does not disguise his affection, celebrating Gorbachev’s three remarkable accomplishments: negotiations with the U.S. to reduce nuclear weapons; cessation of Soviet control of Eastern Europe and the reunification of
Germany; and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc.
German  diplomat  sums  up  Gorbachev’s  approach:  “The  process  went  so  quickly  that opponents were overcome by the reality of the situation.” Herzog and Singer remind us of the drastic and unforeseeable way the world changes.
Werner Herzog
Meeting Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev three times over a six month period was a fascinating and  enlightening  experience.  I was  anxious  not  to  film  a  biography  of  him  but  to  try  to understand the character of such an important figure.  Here was a man who changed the course of the twentieth century and whose actions transformed the world I grew up in; yet in Moscow,
I found a somewhat tragic and lonely figure, surrounded by people who blamed him for the loss of  the  Soviet  Union  and  for  not  fulfilling  the  promises  of  perestroika  and glasnost  that  he  had hoped would improve their lives. Our conversations were frank, and wide-ranging, from his anger over the lack of progress over nuclear arms reduction that he had initiated with Ronald Reagan
to  personal  tragedies,  such  as  the  loss  of  his beloved  wife  Raisa  in  1999.
Although  Mikhail Sergeyevich was not a physically well man, his intelligence, charisma and sense of purpose were still sharp and illuminating and it was a pleasure to have been able to meet such a charismatic, genuine and significant giant of the 20th century.
André Singer
When agreeing with MDR (the German ARD Channel) to make a film about the last President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, the filmmaker in me asked how we could create a narrative that  was  engaging,  unique  and  attractive  to  a  new  generation  who  had  little  experience  or knowledge of the ‘Gorbachev Years’ and the Cold War? Having collaborated with Werner Herzog over  a  thirty-year  period,  I  thought  that  his  inimitable  insights  might provide  the  key.
I  was therefore delighted when he agreed to participate, co-direct and conduct the interviews with the ailing ex-Soviet leader. When A&E agreed to come onboard the plan all came together. It worked wonderfully.
There  was  a  great  bond  be tween  the  two  men  and  Werner  was  able  to  ask questions other interviewers would not have dreamt of. “What would you like inscribed on your gravestone?” He asked. “We tried”, Gorbachev replied. “I am a German, and the first German you met probably wanted to kill you” Werner says referring to the hatred between Russia and Germany stemming from World War 11.
“NO” said Gorbachev, and relayed how as a boy nearby Germans made wonderful biscuits in the shape of rabbits that made the young Gorbachev really like Germans!!
We made a film that was deliberately not a stereotype history documentary.
Instead of detailing all the events of the 1980s and 90s we followed the personal story seen through Gorbachev’s eyes enabling us to expose the humanity behind political characters that shaped the end of the Cold War, the unification of Germany and the attempts to end nuclear proliferation. Eventually Gorbachev failed in his attempts to fully reform the old Soviet Union, but the contrast between what is happening in the world now and what he was confronting in the 1980s is dramatic.
Whilst making the film we were moved by the loneliness of the man who tackled the impossible and is regarded today by many Russians as the person responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Empire. He is now an ailing 87-year old figure living in isolation in Moscow but still has lessons he wants to give the world and which he relayed to Werner in his interview particularly about the  dangers  of  nuclear  weaponry  which  he  sees  with  alarm  going in  the  opposite  direction  to what he and Ronald Reagan fought for thirty years ago. We both felt this was a man still worth listening to and we were privileged to hear his insights and to be able to share them in this film.