- The Qatsi trilogy:
- Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance (1982)
- Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation (1988)
- Naqoyqatsi: Life as War (2002)
The titles of all three motion pictures are words from the Hopi language, in which the word qatsi translates to “life.” The series was produced by the Institute For Regional Education, who also created the Fund For Change
Reggio’s debut as a film director and producer, is the first film of the QATSI trilogy. The title is a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance.” Created between 1975 and 1982, the film is an apocalyptic vision of the collision of two different worlds — urban life and technology versus the environment. The musical score was composed by Philip Glass.
KOYAANISQATSI attempts to reveal the beauty of the beast! We usually perceive our world, our way of living, as beautiful because there is nothing else to perceive. If one lives in this world, the globalized world of high technology, all one can see is one layer of commodity piled upon another. In our world the “original” is the proliferation of the standardized. Copies are copies of copies. There seems to be no ability to see beyond, to see that we have encased ourselves in an artificial environment that has remarkably replaced the original, nature itself. We do not live with nature any longer; we live above it, off of it as it were. Nature has become the resource to keep this artificial or new nature alive.
POWAQQATSI’s overall focus is on natives of the Third World — the emerging, land-based cultures of Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America — and how they express themselves through work and traditions. What it has to say about these cultures is an eyeful and then some, sculpted to allow for varied interpretations.
Where KOYAANISQATSI dealt with the imbalance between nature and modern society, POWAQQATSI is a celebration of the human-scale endeavor the craftsmanship, spiritual worship, labor and creativity that defines a particular culture. It’s also a celebration of rareness — the delicate beauty in the eyes of an Indian child, the richness of a tapestry woven in Kathmandu — and yet an observation of how these societies move to a universal drumbeat.
POWAQQATSI is also about contrasting ways of life, and in part how the lure of mechanization and technology and the growth of mega-cities are having a negative effect on small-scale cultures.
The title POWAQQATSI is a Hopi Indian conjunctive — the word Powaqa, I ( Ego),which refers to a negative sorcerer who lives at the expense of others, and Qatsi –i.e., life.
Several of “POWAQQATSI’s” images point to a certain lethargy affecting its city dwellers. They could be the same faces we saw in the smaller villages but they seem numbed; their eyes reflect caution, uncertainty.
And yet POWAQQATSI, says Reggio, is not a film about what should or shouldn’t be. “It’s an impression, an examination of how life is changing”, he explains. “That’s all it is. There is good and there is bad. What we sought to capture is our unanimity as a global culture. Most of us tend to forget about this, caught up as we are in our separate trajectories. It was fascinating to blend these different existences together in one film.”
To be certain, POWAQQATSI is a record of diversity and transformation, of cultures dying and prospering, of industry for its own sake and the fruits of individual labor, presented as an integrated human symphony — and with Philip Glass’ score providing the counterpart, performed with native, classical and electronic instruments, its tribal rhythms fused by a single majesterial theme.
- NAQOYQATSI –
More important than empires, more powerful than world religions, more decisive than great battles, more impactful than cataclysmic earth changes, NAQOYQATSI chronicles the most significant event of the last five thousand years: the transition from the natural milieu, old nature, to the “new” nature, the technological milieu.
Nature has held earthly unity through the mystery of diversity. New nature achieves this unity through the awesome power of technological homogenization. NAQOYQATSI is a reflection on this singular event, where our subject is the medium itself, the wonderland of technology. The medium is our story. In this scenario human beings do not use technology as a tool (the popular point-of-view), but rather we live technology as a way of life. Technology is the big force and like oxygen it is always there, a necessity that we cannot live without. Because its appetite is seemly infinite, it is consuming the finite world of nature. It is in this sense that technology is NAQOYQATSI, a sanctioned aggression against the force of life itself – war life, a total – war beyond the wars of the battlefield.
NAQOYQATSI takes us on an epical journey into a land that is nowhere, yet everywhere; the land where the image itself is our location, where the real gives way to the virtual. As the gods of old become dethroned, a new pantheon of light appears in the integrated circuit of the computer. Its truth, becomes the truth.
Extremes of promise and spectacle, tragedy and startling hope fuse in a digital tidal wave of image and music. In a poetic nanosecond, NAQOYQATSI give utterance to a new world coming, a new world here.
- Anima Mundi
Anima Mundi is a poetic combination of music and images created from the finest existing footage from the naturalist film field, interwoven with original images and accompanied by a continuous soundtrack composed by Philip Glass based on rhythms and music from the most unspoiled traditional ethnic music.
This work was designed to celebrate the Biological Diversity Campaign of WWF and to create feelings and emotions which, through rich, striking and breathtaking images from Nature may lead its viewers to feel that they are truly a part of the natural world.
The title, ‘Anima Mundi’, reproposes a concept which, throughout the history of mankind from ancient times, conjures up a harmonic principle controlling the laws of life on earth in all its various forms and relationships. Natural order and beauty are based on differences and the endless variety of species, elements, beings and systems which together form a marvelous balanced and harmonious Whole.
Plato in his ‘Timeus’, was the first to provide a complete description of the anima mundi concept, passed down from ancient mythology:
“…Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.”
Plato, Timeus, 29/30; 4th century B.C.
Several ecological themes are firmly based on the idea of anima mundi, which attributes a cosmic breath to the earth. Nature, joyfully venerated for thousands of years by people all over the globe, supports the suffering of its generation simply because it is animated by a deeply rooted and mysterious vital force which justifies everything as well as the position of all elements in the complex order of nature.
Godfrey Reggio, the director of Anima Mundi, translated this concept into images to interpret WWF’s campaign on biological diversity: the concept of anima mundi forms the basis of this film and requires a stylistic type of poetic communication, which is both immediately and deeply felt as it emotionally expresses the myriad of meanings contained in this concept, rather than to simply describe and explain them. Godfrey Reggio’s intention is that of conjuring up a sense of the force of nature by following a path which goes beyond habit, calling forth the deep rooted and archaic sense of man’s ‘being a part’ of nature.
Evidence is an 8 minute 35mm film authored by Godfrey Reggio, during his term as director of Fabrica – a new school founded by Benetton – and a student collaborator, Angela Melitopulos. the film was shot in Rome during March 1995 and edited by Miroslav Janek, a collaborator of Fabrica, with music by composer Philip Glass.
Evidence looks into the eyes of children watching television – in this case Walt Disney’s “Dumbo”. Though engaged in a daily routine, they appear drugged, retarded, like the patients of a mental hospital. Evidence is about the behavior of children watching television – an activity whose physiological aspects have been overlooked in the current controversy surrounding television.
The pervasive nature of this technology is on the rise throughout the world, yet people watch television without the least awareness of the effect that the medium itself has on individuals and societies alike. In the United States, for instance, children attend school for approximately 40 hours a week; they then watch television for about the same amount of time.
Unlike people in a movie theatre, where images are projected onto a screen, television viewers become prey to the television’s own light impulses, they go into an altered state – a transfixed condition where the eyes, the mind, the breathing of the subject is clearly under the control of an outside force. In a poetic sense and without exaggerating one might say that the television technology is eating the subjects who sit before its gaze.
The phenomenon recorded in Evidence relates not to programming or software, but to the medium itself – television the household appliance, the cathode ray tube, the radiation gun aimed at the viewer. This gun can be reasonably compared to a tractor beam that holds its subjects in total control. The physical, spiritual and social consequences of this phenomenon are subject to debate. Evidence hopes to enliven the discussion on the hazards of the medium itself.
Evidence is one of the first products to come from Fabrica, whose mission is to smell the new world coming, to perceive the future as it is revealed in the present.
In this sense, Fabrica is seeing the future as revealed in the eyes of the children: the vision is both alarming and tragic. As with so many developing technologies, the results can be more soberly viewed not from alluring promises, but from simple human observation.
Television the programming is one thing: television the medium is something else. It is the medium that Evidence is about. From the point of view of the medium, Evidence is an autopsy, an opportunity in a few minutes to feel and to see, to witness the effects of a technology that has gained acceptance the world-over without question.
Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio’s Unique View of the World
A Conversation With Godfrey Reggio And Philip Glass