A Telluride time-out with Ron Fricke's 'Baraka'

Posted by · 8:11 pm · September 2nd, 2012

TELLURIDE – I’ve recognized over the last few years that sometime Sunday afternoon at the Telluride fest, I find myself yearning for a break, something different, something I don’t feel compelled to write about. Of course, I’ll often find myself wanting to write about it anyway, but the lack of obligation going in is the real gift. Last year it was the presentation of a restored version of Georges Méliès’s “A Trip to the Moon.” This year it was a 70mm presentation of Ron Fricke’s “Baraka.”

I’ve mentioned this briefly before, but I was fortunate enough to attend a film school that had a massive archive of prints, one of the top three largest collections in the world at the time. And part of that was a great 70mm selection, from “Aliens” to “2001: A Space Odyssey” to, indeed, “Baraka.” I had never heard of the film at the time, though a few of my classmates had. I went in blind and I fell in love. It was a very specific and noteworthy moment for me, an awe-inspiring experience in a pre-jaded time. I’ve owned the film on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray since and, naturally, it has just never been the same experience.

So I was happy to see that the festival this year programmed the new 70mm print of the film, which has been shown here and there at places like the American Cinematheque. (It was actually guest director Geoff Dyer who made the selection.) It seemed the perfect thing at the perfect time, so I hopped in line, as did, I noticed, filmmakers Alexander Payne and Charles Ferguson, among others.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” is really bringing 70mm into a broader conversation this year, but while I’m sure his film is beautiful both visually and sonically, the medium truly shines with a film like “Baraka.” When it was released in 1993, it was the first film to use the format in over 20 years. Filmed in 23 countries, it is a pure piece of work in eery sense of the word. If you’ve never seen it I encourage you to seek it out, particularly on the big screen if you can manage it.

The movie defies any attempt to review it. Some find it a new age bore, others a meditation on respect for the planet. I have never considered it anything more than an experience. To over-apply meaning or to cynically dismiss it are equally damaging to the fragility of life that the film conveys.

Fricke has recently released a sequel of sorts to the film, “Samsara,” in theaters now. I haven’t found the time to see it but I will as soon as possible. There is an essential quality to his work (he also collaborated with Godfrey Reggio on “Koyaanisqatsi”) for which I am thankful. The dedication is always apparent, and the effect is never less than profound.

Boy am I glad I took the time out today.

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