Samsara reunites the partnership of director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson for another of their astounding non-verbal documentaries, following the highly acclaimed Baraka and Chronos. Read our Samsara Interview with director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson below.
The concept of Samsara, meaning impermanence, is at the heart of their latest release, and after five years of work, is clearly of significant importance to the film-making pair.
“The Baraka project was all about humanity’s relationship to the eternal,” said Ron Fricke. “So we just broke it out and went for this non-verbal guided mediation on the themes of birth, death and rebirth. Samsara really means the wheel of life, or the impermanence of things.”
“It’s a big theme in all our lives,” said Mark Magidson, “and it also really calls for a film shot on a global scale.”
Filmed in 25 countries, Samsara is just that: a global project, taking the pair all over the world in search of unique but interconnected material. From China to Brazil, America to Africa, the flow of the film is one that clearly continues around the world, with some astounding locations of beauty.
“We always talk about one place as our favourite,” said Ron Fricke.
“That would be the Burma aerials over the Bagan temples, they were just magnificent,” said Mark Magidson. “We just had everything going for us. It was just as amazing visual field of temples over a perfect day, that was when everything came together. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does it’s really satisfying.”
However, not all the locations were as enjoyable to shoot in, with some scenes shot in truly dangerous locations.
“Shooting in the sulphur mine was the worst one,” claims Fricke. “We just didn’t expect what was going to happen to us, we didn’t realise there were sulphuric acid fumes. When the wind changed direction and we were down there with the miners, we got blinded and were gagging.
“I just don’t understand how they can do that twelve hours a day with no protection.”
“For me, the most disturbing images were being out in places like Manila (in the Philippines), and the slums and garbage dumps, as well as parts of Africa where there is intense poverty,” said producer Magidson. “That really impacts you.”
Samsara adds to the canon of work that Fricke and Magidson have completed in the non-verbal format, using only the film’s beautifully constructed soundtrack to accompany the images.
Clip courtesy of Arrow Films.
“There’s so many fine film-makers out there making dialogue films, but for us the music is the dialogue for the film; the feeling form,” said Ron Fricke.
Edited in silence, Samsara is a film in which the image takes the forefront, allowing it to control the message and become the reality of the film.
“We have an aim, an approach, that we’re true to,” said Magidson. “With Samsara, the execution of that comes down to structuring the imagery, to focus on it and get its essence.”
“It’s all guided in the edit, when we look at the imagery and what really works.”
With this five-year project now completed, the pair can hardly be accused of complacency, with another film clearly on the horizon.
“There’s another non-verbal epic world movie out there,” confirms Fricke. “The world’s just got great stuff in it, there are wonderful things out there.
“And a country that we haven’t got into yet.”
Referring here to North Korea, despite the efforts of former ambassador to the country Bill Richardson to help the film-makers, they were still unable to film in the country.
“I think being American it was tougher, just because of the relations between the countries, and the tensions,” claims Magidson.
“We really wanted to shoot this performance called arirang,” explains Fricke. “You could call it a mass performance, but there’s like a thousand people doing these performances.
“It’s like Busby Berkeley on steroids, I mean it is just something you haven’t seen in the west!”
The more pressing question is whether or not the film-makers will continue with the astounding clarity, and purity, of image provided by 70mm film, or move into the realms of 3D.
“We’re talking about it,” said Fricke.” It’s interesting because the natural world looks wonderful in 3D.”
Whilst there is a case for this point thanks to the work of Werner Herzog in his 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which showed there is perhaps hope for the format in documentary form, it is not a certainty that it will be used for the next project.
“I just think it’s a bit of a barrier, I really just want it to be 3D with no glasses.”
In any case, using a high-resolution digital format for Samsara has resulted in an astounding visual feast, one that will no doubt bring Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson even more success.
SAMSARA IN CINEMAS 31 AUGUST and any clips Courtesy of “ARROW FILMS”.