Non-Verbal Films - Baraka, Samsara and Koyaanisqatsi

By: Darren Lambert


Baraka, Samsara and Koyaanisqatsi are the most well known films of a film genre generally described as non-verbal. None of the films contain any actors, have no plot or script. Instead the films contain moving images from the world designed to invoke thought within the viewer. Although they are not documentary films, they are often enjoyed by fans of documentaries.

All of the movies contain images showing locations of the world, whether natural or man made. The scenes are edited together to provide maximum impact for the viewer. Each of the films has a musical score that provides additional impact for the images. Although best watched at a movie theatre, the films have enjoyed a strong following on the DVD market.

Koyaanisqatsi was the first of these films. Completed in 1982, Koyaanisqatsi was directed by Godfrey Reggio. Koyaanisqatsi shows images from North America, which include: landscapes, deserts, military vehicles, the sea, industry, explosions, housing projects and people. Koyaanisqatsi has many scenes that make excellent use of time-lapse photography, which where filmed by Ron Fricke, the primary cinematographer who then went to on to make Baraka. Philip Glass composed the musical score for Koyaanisqatsi.

Baraka is the most famous and celebrated of these films, completed in 1996 by Ron Fricke. Baraka is a more spiritual movie than Koyaanisqatsi, but also uses many of the same techniques that Fricke used as the principal cinematographer in Koyaanisqatsi. Baraka shows the people and places of the world in a more personal light. Baraka's scenes include images of: landscapes, animals, temples, Asia, India, religion, tribes, waterfalls, cities and war. Baraka was shot using 70mm film, which is of a higher quality than most films, and gives the film a distinct visual look and feel. Michael Sterns provided the musical score to Baraka, as well as other contributing artists.

Samsara is Ron Fricke's sequel to Baraka. Samsara will contain images in a style similar to Baraka, and is expected to reach audiences in 2008. Ron Fricke's passion for the film will drive him to achieve the highest possible standards, as already shown in his work, which includes the film Chronos. Mark Magidson, Producer of Fricke’s films Baraka and Chronos will also contribute to Samsara.

There are several animal related movies in this genre. Microcosmos shows the animals and insects that are found in a summer meadow in France. The team use Macrovision technology to capture images that have to be seen to be believed. Many of the shots have been used in commercials. This is a great film for children.

Winged Migration is a film concentrating on the migration of birds, made by the Microcosmos team. The film follows many different groups of birds, Watching the DVD extras provides a great insight into the extraordinary techniques used to capture the scenes.

Dogora is a film that shows the daily lives of the people of Cambodia. The film is made by Patrice Leconte, using modern HD technology, rather than the traditional film techniques used in the other movies.

I highly recommend that everyone watches Baraka. If you enjoy it then try some of the other films, such as Koyaanisqatsi.

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Darren Lambert is a keen fan of the non-verbal films Baraka, Samsara, and Koyaanisqatsi.

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