December was the 20th anniversary of the film Baraka. It represents the best of mankind and it represents the worst of mankind. It uses a visual language rather than a script. It is overwhelming, non-judgemental and as current and relevant then as it is now.
Baraka has been widely hailed as a classic that even now continues to find new audiences. It has won numerous awards, including the FIPRESCI (International Critics) Award for Best Picture at its initial release at the Montreal Film Festival in 1992.
Have we progressed much in twenty years? Not much in my opinion. We are as good at creating as at destructing. It is embedded on our DNA and both capacities do not seem to change. History, mistakes and achievements continue to repeat themselves.
"Baraka", an ancient Sufi word with forms in many languages, can simply be translated as a blessing, or as the breath, or essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds. When the late philosopher Joseph Campbell challenged storytellers in his monumental work "The Power of Myth" to tell the "only myth worth thinking", the story of our planet and human interaction with it, he demanded that it be told with "the eye of reason" beyond nationality, religion and linguistic separation.
Director-cinematographer Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson, both co-editors, took Campbell's challenge personally. They realized that this quest for the ultimate story of our unique outpost in space was perfect for the kind of epic filmmaking in which an unfolding of story and awareness through images and sound and music could speak directly to the soul and mind of the viewer, bypassing words, exciting the eye and ear and imagination with a sweep of visions and sounds.
To achieve this, the film makers embarked on what was literally a "world-wide" odyssey to capture the images which would tell the story of the earth's evolution, of man's diversity and inter-connectedness, and his impact on the world he inhabits. They have made a film that transcends geographical and language barriers in an effort to move and inspire audiences around the world.
"Baraka" was photographed on six continents in 24 countries including such diverse locations as Tanzania, China, Brazil, Japan, Kuwait, Cambodia, Iran and Nepal. Utilizing the exquisite 70 millimeter film format, as used on such films as Ryan's Daughter and Lawrence of Arabia decades ago, the filmmakers and crew traveled the world for 14 months to record evidence of the planet's past, present and future hidden in some of the most remote and seldom explored corners of the earth.
Fricke and Magidson utilized this story telling without the intrusion of words previously on the award winning IMAX film Chronos. Composer Michael Stearns was engaged to compliment the extraordinary images and sounds through which Baraka's story is told.
In capturing the glories and violent calamities that nature and man have brought to planet earth, Baraka tells the spellbinding story of the tumultuous interaction of earth and man.
A sequel to Baraka, Samsara, made by the same filmmakers, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011 and released internationally in August 2012.
Also shot in 70mm, Samsara explores an arguably darker, updated version of many of the same themes as Baraka.