Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson move Samsara across continents
Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson have been down this path before. But, of course, the road is different every time. As the filmmakers behind 1992’s Baraka, and Chronos before that, they pioneered the non-narrated travelogue—or, as some prefer to think of them, those get-incredibly-stoned-and-watch-at-midnight movies.
Although it is easy to watch the results, it must be tough to spend five years in more than two dozen nations, including potentially dangerous spots in Israel, Indonesia, Egypt, and Namibia, making Samsara, a film about the endless cycle of life and death.
“In places like Saudi Arabia,” Magidson explains, calling the Georgia Straight from Los Angeles, “you have to provide an outline [of the film], at least. It helps that Baraka’s become pretty well known, because most people understand that what we’re doing doesn’t come on with a big political statement.”
Magidson is nominally the producer, and received a writing credit, but the few people involved in the process of making Samsara (which opens in Vancouver on Friday [September 7] ) did a bit of everything.
“At times, there was just three of us, including J. C. Earle, our associate producer, so the crew was usually quite small and manageable,” Magidson says. “I’m not at liberty to discuss our budget, but it’s roughly the catering budget of other films,” he adds with a laugh. “We’ve done this for a while, and we have some fairly fine tools now, so we get in and out pretty easily.”
Director Fricke, who also did most of the shooting, was first noticed as a cinematographer on Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi, which kicked off the genre in 1982. He thinks the concept has evolved along with filmmaking technology.
“The goals have remained fairly consistent,” Fricke says during the same call, “but I wasn’t personally so in line with Koyaanisqatsi's idea that technology is out of control. So when Mark and I got together after that, we tried working in the larger format of 70mm and exploring the theme of connection. I mean, we’ve all been invited to this planet, and it’s up to us to make the most of the experience, and the place.
“In our case, we’re not working with an actor or a screenplay; the image is the star. We envisioned Samsara as a nonguided meditation, and some of the images are intense; it’s not just about how beautiful everything is. We’re aware that when you put five or six images together, they tend to form a narrative. So we thought if the images could flow from one country to another, the viewer could make broader connections.”
For Magidson, much of the appeal lies in the openness of interpretation.
“It took about one year to edit the film, and, of course, it had to fit together based on the reality of the material. There’s a real breadth of imagery, and what came out is a kind of Rorschach test for viewers, and critics, as everyone tends to focus on different things.”
For his part, Fricke is looking into advances in 3-D and other technologies.
“The world’s a wonderful place, and there’s always another film out there. But I hope it doesn’t take another five years to make the next one. We’re not getting any younger.”
Watch the trailer for Samsara.