Samsara: Visual Storytelling Goes Big

Published on website: August 24, 2012
Categories: 65mm , Feature Films , Matt Stoffel , The StoryBoard Blog
Headshot of SAMSARA director Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Headshot of SAMSARA director Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson. Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

The quintessential cinematic experience, Samsara delivers immersive visuals captured beautifully on 65mm film. Set to open Friday, August 24th, we had the pleasure of speaking with the filmmakers to get a glimpse of the process that has garnered much acclaim.

Please introduce yourself to our readers!

We are Ron Fricke (Director) and Mark Magidson (Producer) of SAMSARA.

Can you give us a quick synopsis on Samsara for those that may not have heard of it yet?

SAMSARA is a new nonverbal documentary film we created which is being released this August.  We filmed over a period of five years in twenty-five countries on five continents, and shot on 65mm film. SAMSARA transports the viewer to the varied worlds of sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial complexes, and natural wonders, and by dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, the film really encourages your own interpretations via these  breathtaking images and transcendent music that infuse the ancient with the modern. SAMSARA explores the wonders of our world, from the mundane to the miraculous, looking into the unfathomable reaches of man’s spirituality and the human experience, and illuminating the links between humanity and the rest of nature.

Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

The film was shot entirely on KODAK 65mm film. Which KODAK film stocks did you shoot with and why did you choose this format?

There is still no digital equivalent that compares to capturing imagery on 65mm film negative. We used 3 stocks, 100, 200, and 500 ASA KODAK stocks. When you go to so many countries and locations you need to bring back the imagery in a format that will stand up over time. Image capture in this format is timeless. We were concerned a digital format would have become outdated quickly, filming this over a 4-year period. When we began, the digital standard was 2K.

How does film contribute to the “sensory experience” of SAMSARA?

Image is the main character in our films. We do not have actors or dialogue, so the fidelity of the imagery is all-important. The vibrancy and resolution of imagery captured in this way delivers a greater emotional impact for this kind if nonverbal storytelling.

Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

You produced SAMSARA in 25 countries over five years. How did you approach and plan your production process to get the shots you needed to tell this story?

We started with a concept. Samsara means the endless cycles of birth, death, and rebirth - another word is impermanence. From that concept, we identified themes that directed us to locate imagery that fits within that thematic framework. We researched imagery and locations and created a list of targets before bringing the equipment and crew in to a location.  We also remained open to finding more material once we arrived at a location.

There are aerial as well as time-lapse scenes in the film. Can you describe one or two examples and how they were visual tools for your storytelling?

Time-lapse has the ability to show unfamiliar views of familiar subject matter, and we used it to bring a perspective on subject matter, such as the turning star fields, to reveal movement and see it in a way one cannot at conventional frame rates.

Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Camera movement also seems to play a critical role. Did shooting large format film affect how you composed shots?

There is a formal approach to filming in this way as our equipment is more cumbersome and harder to move around quickly than say were we to have gone out in digital. We are very selective in the approach to filming subject matter, and moving the camera brings a more interesting and emotional impact to the imagery. We have refined our equipment package over many years to allow pan, tilt, dolly, and jib capability at various frame rates. It is a privilege to be able to film in 65mm.

What was your post-production workflow – how/where did you process the film, view dailies, and finish?

As with our previous film BARAKA, we were unable to view dailies. We would accumulate our footage by country and courier it for processing at FotoKem. We have done it this way before and while there is some risk, there is also risk shipping dailies as there are more opportunities for the film to be x-rayed. We did not have any problems.

Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Still from SAMSARA.  Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Thanks to Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson for speaking with us! Watch the trailor for Samsara below!

Screening locations and times can be found at barakasamsara.com/samsara/screenings

Be sure to follow them on social media too!
Samsara on Facebook
Samsara on Twitter

More information for Samsara can be found at barakasamsara.com

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