About Baraka

A film produced by Mark Magidson and directed by Ron Fricke

Article by Mark Magidson & Eric Keller

Baraka, an ancient Sufi word with forms in many languages, translates as a blessing, or as the breath or essence of life from which the evolutionary process unfolds.

In 1993 the remarkable film BARAKA was released to critical and audience acclaim worldwide. The film has won numerous festival and audience awards, including the FIPRESCI (International critics) Award for Best Picture at the Montreal World Film Festival.

BARAKA is a non-verbal cinematic meditation on the earth, an exploration of the natural beauty of places, of human spirituality, of birth, life and death, and man’s own capacity for destruction. Director Ron Fricke states, “BARAKA is a journey of rediscovery that plunges into nature, into history, into the human spirit, and finally into the realm of the infinite.”

When asked to describe the film, Producer Mark Magidson stated, “Through imagery, the film shows the diversity of the way people approach spirituality, religion, life and death, the struggle for survival and so on. The goal was for the viewer to have an inner journey, and the absence of both dialogue and commentary was intended to leave space for an internal dialogue, and allows the viewer to be guided by the music and the imagery. The content and the structure is meant to explore the life experience in its totality.”

Three years in the making, including a 14-month period of intensive location shooting, BARAKA takes the viewer on an unforgettable journey to 24 countries. The imagery is as varied as life itself. From the unspeakable horror of raging oil fires in Kuwait during the final days of the Gulf War to the contemplative beauty of a lone Tibetan Monk deep in meditative prayer. We see the inquisitive gaze of a Kayapo boy peering out of the Amazon jungle and the cold stares of armed Cambodian soldiers guarding a munitions storage area.

Watching BARAKA the viewer is moved to feel both blessed and cursed by the images they see. The camera unflinchingly shows the beauty and terror of the earth in rapid motion: Rivers of busy people blur by in major cities; then the film cuts to a battery egg hatchery where thousands of chicks are “processed” via conveyor belt, the females separated from the males.

The effect of images juxtaposed one after the other is very powerful. Going from one tradition to the next, images of the warring parties of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem, praying in their holy places in such close proximity to one another somehow suggests that all humans are spiritual creatures, regardless of religion, culture or nationality.

Fricke firmly believes that nonverbal films must live up to the standard of great still photography which reveals the essence of a subject—not just the physical presence, but the inner workings as well. In order to accomplish this goal, he relies on the careful balance of three elements: cinematography, editing, and music. He says, “When I create films, I look at the theatre as a temple. The audience sits in the dark with their senses alert and their defenses down. It is a perfect opportunity to bypass the viewer's personality and address their inner being.”

In 1999 St. Anns Press published BARAKA: A Visual Journal, a collection of still photographs that Mark Magidson made while on location for the film. In his words this published volume “…fulfills a need that continued long after the film was released.” Magidson stated, “Despite the pressing demands of completing the film and the exhaustion from the constant jet lag and daily pre-dawn wake up calls, I was aware of a need to express something through these photographs that I knew I would not experience again. Seeing the constants of life and death through the forms of different cultures connected me in a very primal way with the people we came into contact with. These seemingly endless individual encounters renewed my own life’s exploration.”

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