Famed director's new PSA on texting

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Director Werner Herzog has made a PSA about texting and driving

The 35-minute film showcases four incidents that ended in tragedy

Herzog was an unlikely choice, but he's glad he took the chance

CNN  — 

Director Werner Herzog has won countless film awards. His works, including “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” “Fitzcarraldo” and “Grizzly Man,” are considered classics. He’s been recognized for his artistic passion, his eccentricities (he once ate a shoe after losing a bet) and his disdain for many aspects of commercialism.

So why is Herzog doing a public-service documentary on the perils of texting and driving? Sponsored by a consortium of cellular carriers, no less?

Why, the man doesn’t even own a cell phone.

But he looks at the statistics for texting-while-driving incidents – as well as our smartphone obsession and its cost in simple human contact – and recognizes the necessity of saying something.

“I immediately understood there was something very, very important (about the subject),” he said via Skype from Switzerland.

Herzog’s new work, a short film called “From One Second to the Next,” premiered last week online. Sponsored by It Can Wait, a driver-safety campaign launched by AT&T in 2009 that now includes T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon Wireless, it’s received more than 1.7 million views on YouTube and will be distributed to more than 40,000 high schools in the coming months.

The film chronicles the impact of four incidents in which texting and driving led to catastrophic injury or death. The first left a Milwaukee child, Xzavier, a paraplegic after he was hit by a driver who ran a stop sign. The second is about an Indiana man, Chandler, who rear-ended a horse-driven buggy and killed three members of an Amish family. The third profiles a brain-damaged Vermont woman, Debbie, hit while walking her dog. The film concludes with a Utah man, Reggie, whose distracted driving caused a chain reaction that left two men dead and a third severely injured.

Each story has the kinds of small, wrenching details that Herzog, in typical style, underplays.

Xzavier’s mother says she sleeps on the couch, listening for changes in the rhythm of her boy’s ventilator. Debbie’s family says her chocolate Lab was thrown through the air, knocked down a distant mailbox and – before he died – wagged his tail as Debbie was placed in the ambulance.

The men whose text-checking led to tragedy sit on roadsides, pondering the moment their lives changed.

But Herzog points to another incident, one that didn’t make the film, as representative of the problem. A young man, while texting his girlfriend, hit a boy on a bicycle. The boy died; the man is now in prison.

“The young man was texting with his girlfriend, and the girlfriend was right next to him,” Herzog said. “In the same car.”

‘A powerful storyteller’

Herzog admits he’s an unlikely choice to direct such a film. Unlike some of his colleagues, he doesn’t do commercials, and his subject matter is famously varied, whether it’s French cave drawings or a lone air-crash survivor.

But Michelle Kuckelman, AT&T’s executive director for integrated brand marketing, says Herzog made sense. He was approached through the firm’s ad agency, BBDO New York.

Werner Herzog is gratified by the reaction to his documentary on texting and driving.