Ron Fricke, who directed "Samsara," was the cinematographer for Godfrey Reggio's "Koyaanisqatsi" and its sequels before going on to direct "Chronos" and "Baraka." How he bankrolls these things I don't know: they are, without a doubt, gorgeous works of art that I heartily endorse. But my "endorsement" means essentially nothing as I bought the BluRay used for $10 at BMV and these things must cost millions to make, but I find it very hard to imagine they attract anything like that much in business at the theatres. It's very easy to forget about him between movies - his last movie ("Baraka") came out in 1992 and this one came out in 2012. I was made aware of it by Cinefix's brilliant "Top 10 Most Beautiful Movies of All Time" (see also this blog entry), who ranked it first, and the clips they used were very convincing. They said of it, "There isn't a single frame you couldn't hang on your wall and marvel at for years: it's a moving museum, a guided meditation, and a visual revelation ..." They're right: there isn't a single utilitarian frame in the entire thing, not one frame of just getting from here to there: it's pure, perfect visual art. It often felt like photography in motion: more like a photographer had set up a brilliant shot ... and then shot frame sequences rather than a single photo.
But like Reggio and Fricke's other movies, being without plot and dialogue doesn't mean it has nothing to say: having watched the movie, I've concluded that Fricke is:
- a Buddhist (although the title is a dead giveaway)
- a vegetarian
- a conservationist
- fascinated by people
- fascinated by religion
And, most importantly (as a viewer), a brilliant editor. This is his best film: get the BluRay (or better yet, the 4K version if/when it becomes available) and watch it on a BIG screen. You won't regret it.
One thing I noticed was that it shared about ten minutes of very similar footage to Jennifer Baichwal's 2006 tribute to Ed Burtynsky, "Manufactured Landscapes." Burtynsky is one of the world's greatest living photographers, and Baichwal did an incredible job of bringing his imagery to film. The overlap between movies shows in the scenes of Chinese factory workers (both inside and outside the factories), and in the views of electronic waste. Anyone who likes this movie should see that one as well.
According to Box Office Mojo, as of this writing, "Samsara" has made $2.6 million. They don't list the budget, but I imagine it cost more than that as they filmed on 70mm across five continents and five years.