How two filmmakers turned sulfur mines, slaughterhouses, and trash heaps into breathtaking cinema
In the era of Instagram photo filters and quick-and-easy snapshots, filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson still do things the slow, hard way. Their lavish, ambitious films without words require unwieldy analogue equipment and Phileas Fogg-scale travel—not to mention a crew willing to journey 1,000 miles for eight good seconds of footage. Their best-known work to date, Baraka (1992), did not feature dialogue or recurring characters, relying instead on powerful images and propulsive music to tell a global story. Roger Ebert, who included Baraka on his "Great Films" list, wrote that it could be offered to aliens as an adequate explanation of the human race.
Samsara, which screens in select theatres this fall, is the latest Herculean effort from Fricke and Magidson, their first movie in 20 years. Shot in dozens of locations across 25 countries, their sequel to Baraka took five years to make. Every frame was captured with 65mm cameras, a gorgeous (and expensive) widescreen format that offers unparalleled detail but requires bulky equipment, voluminous hard drives, and an arduous film-to-digital conversion process. The crew also hauled a custom-built, 30-year old timelapse photography system—the same one used in Godfrey Reggio's landmark documentary Koyaanisqatsi (1982). (That film brought extended timelapse sequences to moviegoers for the first time, and Fricke was cinematographer.)