SAMSARA (DON’T PANIC 21.08.12)
One of the most aesthetically breathtaking cinema releases of the year – and quite possibly, the decade. You NEED to see SAMSARA.
Following up on 1992’s award-winning BARAKA, SAMSARA is a nonverbal odyssey into the spiritual themes of birth, death and rebirth, sweeping the viewer along on a stunning visual journey over 100 locations in 25 countries across the globe. We spoke to director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson to find out more.
SAMSARA was a hugely ambitious cinematic undertaking – what was the most challenging aspect of making the film?
Mark: Staying focused and driven for five years – and then there’s all the hurdles of going to all the locations, through all the long days and long flights and long drives. It was a lot to take on.
Ron: Some of the locations we shot were tough – especially the sulphur mine. We were almost gassed; the wind changed, all this sulphuric acid blew in our faces, and we were instantly blinded and stopped breathing!
Despite the huge scope of locations that you managed to cover, are there any other places you wish you could have included in the film?
M: There was one country that got away…
R: North Korea. We were trying to film this mass performance that they have every year , and tried for two years, but just couldn’t get over the hump. I think, had we not been Americans, we might’ve made it, but we just couldn’t get past the politics in the end.
SAMSARA was designed to follow your last film BARAKA by “Delving even deeper into humanity’s relationship to the eternal” – why did you want to continue with that spiritual focus?
R: We wanted to expand humanity’s relationship to the eternal with SAMSARA by doing a nonverbal guided meditation based on the themes of birth, death and rebirth. There’s a spiritual kink in what Mark and I are doing. It was trying to show the flow and interconnection of things; that’s really what’s behind these films.
It’s unusual to come across a film that attempts to expand people’s perceptions in that way in this day and age. Do you think that more films should explore similar metaphysical ideas?
M: That would be great! I’d love to see more films like that, instead of guys and girls shooting each other with guns all the time.
R: This is the kind of film we’re making, so if someone is into action/adventure films and we’re not appealing to them, then we’re not. There’s something that hopefully appeals to everyone; that we’re all connected around the world, in a lot of different ways. SAMSARA is about having people feel that connection.
Though the film is structured as a nonverbal guided meditation, I did get the sense of there being occasional moral undertones within the specific juxtapositions of certain scenes; for instance, the footage of the slaughterhouse being followed by obese Americans eating, or images of sex dolls and strippers then leading onto the shot of the crying geisha. Would you say that’s a fair comment?
R: Images want to be narrative about themselves. In the edit we tried to steer it away from becoming too complicated with a narrative, and tried to just follow the flow – but images do [develop a narrative], especially when you juxtapose them.
M: There’s an essence that you feel within the imagery, because it’s not fiction. You could say that those are statements of some kind coming from an image, and we’re choosing those images, but it’s not coming from a point of view of good or bad, or right and wrong, really.
In regards to the non-verbal format, the benefits of not having to put together a script aside, what kinds of issues did you face when putting the film together?
M: Structuring the film in the editing process was a challenge, to keep the film going in a way that feels like you’re taking the viewer on a journey and that the journey is coming to a conclusion as the film ends. We had that sand-painting component [pictured] as a key structure element of creation at the beginning, and destruction at the end – but within that framework, there are a lot of ways it could have been put together. We spent about a year trying to figure it out.
SAMSARA captures everything from Ghanaian fantasy coffins to manufacturing factories to Buddhist monks – with a whole world out there to explore cinematically, how on earth (sorry) did you manage to narrow everything down to the final scenes?
M: Well, a lot of people said no, so we went with the people who said yes! For instance, in terms of shooting where food is processed or made in the kitchens, the US shut us out – but China said yes. We also did a lot of research on the Internet and YouTube, which we didn’t have when making BARAKA.
R: [Choosing] comes from experience and gut feeling. The world’s a great place, full of great things. There’s no lack of subject matter out there.
Tell us about the process of implementing music into the film – as a nonverbal piece of cinema, sound must’ve been hugely important.
M: We’d worked with the composers before, so everyone was comfortable with each other. The music’s half the viewing experience; it’s the lead voice, because you’re not competing with actors and dialogue.
R: It really is a dialogue, just in musical form. It’s the feeling and emotions of the film, and worked on a very intuitive level. It was about the music being music, and not making any other kind of statement – it wasn’t background score, or effects. We didn’t have a lot of background sound.
Ultimately, what do you want audiences to take away from SAMSARA?
R: To feel like they’re connected to the life experience, to the phenomena around the world as viewed in all these different cultures and countries we’ve been to.
M: We’ve all been invited here by Life to this planet – Life’s the host, and really didn’t ask any of us to approve the guestlist. We’re all here together, interconnected. We’re all spiritual beings, whether we know it or not. Always have been, always will be.
Have you got plans for another project in the future?
R: Well, there is another big world epic out there Mark!
M: I need a weekend off.
SAMSARA is out at selected cinemas across the UK now. For more information visit barakasamsara.com.
Words: Charlotte McManus
Posted on 23/05/2013, in Film and tagged bakara, charlotte mcmanus, don't panic, film, film 2012, film review, mark magidson, movie, movie review, ron fricke, samsara. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.