‘Last Whispers’ film spotlights extinct and endangered languages

Last Whispers review

An image from the film, “Last Whispers: Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree.”

“Today over 7000 languages are spoken worldwide,” a written message tells us at the start of Lena Herzog’s film, “Last Whispers: Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree.”

“By the middle of this century,” the next sentence continues, “half of these languages will have fallen silent.”


The 46-minute film — which is being shown this week at the Kasser Theater at Montclair State University, as part of the Peak Performances series — is basically a meditation on that message. Voices are heard communicating in dozens of extinct and endangered languages from all over the world — in song, and speech, and murmurs, and whispers — as shimmering music is heard and we view a gorgeous kaleidoscope of black-and-white images of space, and nature, and letters that are in danger of losing their meaning. (see video below) Some viewers will be reminded of the 1982 movie, “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance.”

Enhancing the experience, a surround-sound system has been installed in the Kasser Theater, making listeners feel as if they are immersed in the film’s scenes, rather than watching them from a distance.

Herzog conceived, directed and produced “Last Whispers,” using photography and videos by herself, Tomas Van Houtryve and Aziz Lechgar, musical compositions and sound design Marco Capalbo and Mark Mangini, and animation by Amanda Tasse. Credited, too, at the end of the film, are organizations and individuals involved in recording and documenting all these indigenous languages, a Herculean task in and of itself.

You may not be aware of it, but the United Nations has declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages. According to the IYIL website, indigenous peoples ” are not only leaders in protecting the environment, but their languages represent complex systems of knowledge and communication and should be recognized as a strategic national resource for development, peace building and reconciliation.

“They also foster and promote unique local cultures, customs and values which have endured for thousands of years. Indigenous languages add to the rich tapestry of global cultural diversity. Without them, the world would be a poorer place.”

Remaining presentations of “Last Whispers: Oratorio for Vanishing Voices, Collapsing Universes and a Falling Tree” will be at 8 p.m. Oct. 19; and 1:30 and 3 p.m. Oct. 20; visit peakperfs.org.

The Oct. 19 screening will also feature a panel discussion titled “Loud & Clear: Linguistic Diversity on the Brink.”


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