Description from TIFF 2011 catalog by Thom Powers:
Prepare yourself for an unparalleled sensory experience. Samsara reunites director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson, whose previous films Baraka and Chronos were acclaimed for combining visual and musical artistry. Samsara expands on their effort to portray the connections between humanity and nature in a bold way. Filmed for over four years and in more than twenty countries, the film transports us through multiple cultures to sacred grounds, disaster sites, industrialized zones and natural wonders. By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, the filmmakers subvert our expectations of a documentary. Instead, they encourage our own interpretations inspired by images and musical compositions that infuse the ancient with the modern.
Samsara is a Tibetan word that means “the ever turning wheel of life,” and Fricke describes the film as a “guided meditation on the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.”
Early on, we watch a group of Buddhist monks in Ladakh perform the painstaking ritual of creating a sand mandala. Kneeling in a circle, the monks work separately — shaking coloured grains of sand from small tubes into an intricate design — and thereby compose a collective work of art. This breathtaking activity is indicative of how the filmmakers give us privileged access to profound scenarios. Other tableaux include the surrealist wreckage of houses after Hurricane Katrina, the testing of lifelike robots alongside their human counterparts, group exercises in a prison, garbage pickers in an endless horizon of trash and Muslim pilgrims circling around the tomb at Mecca.
Even when the setting is familiar, Fricke brings a revivified perspective with his stunning compositions, matched with the latest in photographic technology. His team shot on 65mm film, then transferred it through a high resolution scanning process to a digital format that makes for mesmerizing images. For filmgoers who cherished the revelations of Baraka almost twenty years ago, Samsara proves to be worth the wait.
About the director:
Ron Fricke is a filmmaker and cinematographer. His credits as director of photography include Koyaanisqatsi (82) and Atomic Artists (83). He shot and directed the short documentaries Chronos (85) and Sacred Site (86), as well as the feature documentaries Baraka (92) and Samsara (11).