Cinema as meditation (Ron Fricke interview)
Ron Fricke, the director of the festival-favourite, Baraka, tries to take out words from his films. He lets the camera talk as he takes viewers on a non-verbal cinematic journey through 24 countries. Rajeev Nair meets him in Dubai
RON Fricke is on to his next film. Samsara, meaning "wheel of life" in Tibetan, is an epic sequel to his seminal production, Baraka, which has been a Diff favourite. He might train his camera on Dubai too, because of the city’s “unique architecture.”
But wherever he goes, he wouldn’t take words on to his film. He prefers to make non-verbal films blended with the language of World Music. That is part of a meditative process of filmmaking by this path-breaking cinematographer-director who has worked with the likes of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.
As an impressionable kid, he saw the cinema as a temple and films as God’s language of truth. Of course, he knows that isn’t so, but to this day, filmmaking is a sort of worship for him, a meditative experience.
Dubai audiences indeed lapped up Baraka. With the film, Fricke took them on a world tour — from Mt Everest to the flaming oil fields of Kuwait and St Peter’s Square in Rome to the Galapagos Islands — supported by a throbbing soundtrack of World Music.
Excerpts from an exclusive interview:
What did you seek to convey with Baraka?
The film’s concept is humanity’s relation to the eternal, and I made it as a guided meditation without actors, words or a story. A series of images and music takes you the inner essence of the concept.
What prompted you to make the film in such an out-of-the-box fashion?
I go way back with non-verbal films. I worked on Koyaanisqatsi (which, presented by Francis Ford Coppola, was to become an underground classic of sorts). I have always been very interested in documentary films from a very spiritual frame of reference. I have been a long-time meditator…
Do you believe one can translate the essence of meditation into films?
I don’t know if you can do so… but there is a different world that you experience when you see a great painting or go to a museum, and that has nothing to do with words. With Baraka, we were on the road for 12 months visiting 24 countries; it was like doing a painting — you just kept working on.
With no story, no preconceived notion of what you will shoot, how do you decide what you want for the film?
Well, you just get what you get. You don’t know who is going to get sick that day, what the weather would be like… You can only plan half the thing, the other half is happy accidents, but yes, you get a lot of interesting things that you hadn’t thought of. Baraka did not have a scripted kind of approach — you simply looked for the essence of things.
Words are also part of everyday reality. So why take them out of films?
Well, words tell you too much about what you are telling and feeling. They tell you to think about certain things in a certain way, and when you stop the words, like when you meditate, you clear the noise out, and it becomes something else.
So you give leeway for the audience to take what they want out of the film?
What according to you is generally taken from the film?
I get a lot of everything… as in life. There are a lot of people who don’t like it. A lot of people found it uncomfortable because it wasn’t a structured story; a lot of people found it very liberating and open, and they liked the experience. I would say there are more people who liked the film than didn’t because they sought out that kind of film. They knew what it was. If you are a hardcore dialogue-story person, you are not going to like it.
When making Baraka, did you have an audience in mind?
Yeah, me! I am the audience. I make the film for me. There are a lot of people out there who do art for its experience. There are many writers and directors who do dialogue films. They do beautiful stories. I don’t need to be another one. Maybe I don’t have the talent to do that.
So do you make a deliberate effort to be different?
I kind of fell into it (making non-verbal documentaries)… after Koyaanisqatsi. My new project is also non-verbal. But now documentaries are good business. So is World Music. It is niche. A lot of people want to see good documentaries; they haven’t been made. Now, it could be a trend and I may have caught up with the trend. It is easier now to talk to people about raising money because I make documentaries and non-verbal ones at that, which means the world market. Some 12 years ago, they might have asked me to get out of their office.
Does that put pressure on you to deliver?
No… making films is a very scary proposition. You have to get over that and once you keep the aim and purpose, you will get there.
What is one thing you learnt from the whole process of filmmaking, not just Baraka?
That it is really a collaborative process. You work with a lot of people, you have to give them room to be creative with the skills and talent that they have. It is not one person making the film, it is the team.
Of the 24 countries that you travelled for Baraka, which ones had the most lasting influence on you?
I don’t know… I find the US and Europe very boring. I am interested in countries like India, China, Thailand and Indonesia; there is some real culture there.
Posted by Rajeev Nair at 6:30 PM
Mr. Ron Fricke the Master Cameraman