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Godfrey Reggio
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The interview


Godfrey Reggio

Godfrey Reggio, the trilogy’s director, is the inventor of this new film style. His documentary films portray reality while completely shunning fiction and the use of actors and sets.

The trilogy, made up of the films Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi, is a series of poetic, emotionally moving images. The result is a collection of visual and sound essays—with music by Philip Glass—that tell of the destructive impact of the modern world upon the environment.

Where did the idea for the Qatsi trilogy come from? Does it have to do with your life path?
Yes, I was working with street gangs with the barrier of Northern Mexico and I was a monk at that time, and being a monk I didn’t get to see media at all, another brother introduced me to the film “Los Olvidados” (“The Young and the Damned” or “The Forgotten Ones”) it wasn’t an entertaining film but rather virtual, it moved me deeply, I guess I’ve seen that film 150 times with the gang members. It made me think of the power of cinema to touch people. Buñuel is the great master but it motivated me to find my own voice in the cinema.

You are very critical towards technology in your movies, but don't you think it is contradiction that you are using technology to show this criticism?
It is a complete contradiction! I am consciously embracing that which I am questioning. I look at it as a vaccination, if you don’t want to get yellow fever, you put yellow fever in your body. My interest is to communicate, so I communicate through the power of images, which is the offering of technology, and I do so to question it.

Where do you think we would be if technology didn't advance so quickly?
Hard to say, we can’t go back to the past—technology is here to stay. I don’t know other than looking to the countries of Southern Hemisphere, people who have not lived the technology boom but who have created human skills of communities, and these communities are in danger today. Technology is something we live in; in that sense technology is the most extraordinary event of the last seven thousand years, it offers us the language of image, of the new empire.

Until One Is Committed
(Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

Until one is committed there is always hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative and creation,
there is one elementary truth,

the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans.
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising to one’s favor all manner of unforeseen accidents and meetings
and material assistance which no man could have dreamed
would come his way.
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

It is well known that 50% of an audiovisual presentation is made up of images, and the other half, of audio: music or words. If you had to add words to your movie, what language would you have chosen? With subtitles in what language?
Well, I already made that choice, I chose the medium of music, because music portends a direct communion to the soul of the listener. I look for an original composition that could communicate directly with people’s feelings. If I want to communicate meaning then I use words and if I want to communicate feelings then I use art. So the music becomes equal with the images in my films.

Why did you choose the composer Philip Glass for the soundtrack?
When I heard Philip Glass it was like a revelation to me, I said, “That is the person I want to work with.” I felt that his music was very cinematic. It has a polyrhythmic structure and plus it comes out of the Hindu tradition, Indian, more like progressive jazz. The way he writes his music is not spontaneous but it is an ever-ascending note that never reaches the top, always going higher.

Film director Peter Greenway, who has also worked with Philip Glass, says that we have been making films for a hundred years that are no more than illustrated literature, and that we should look for a new language, "Film of ideas not anecdotes or plots." What do you think about this?
I have to agree. That doesn’t mean that plots are not interesting or that a film has to be trapped by the theatrical format of the stage. In my films I remove that characterization and I am left with the background. I take the background and make it the foreground.

What is the documentation process before doing the films. Are you using archive images, or the images are shot in situ for the film?
In the case of the first two films, both are shot with almost all original photography. In the case of Naqoyqatsi, I torture the images with technology, so I consider this last film completely original photography. Even though 80% of the images come from archive, I didn’t use any of the images as they were given to me; I used them after manipulating them.

Can you tell me what your next project is about?
The working title is “Savage Eden.” Eden, of course, is the God of Paradise from the Biblical reference, and the subject matter would be the “ism.” The point of view of the film is that when the physical and metaphysical foundation of life is collapsing, that leads to ideology, it leads to destiny, to control of human behavior through utopian fascism. When the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. So this film would be questioning the perfection of the “ism” of ideology.

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The test
A place to live / visit
The desert in the American Southwest.
The best invention of all time
Language—it tells me who I am.
What did you want to be when you were little?
A playboy.
A film
“Los Olvidados” (Luís Buñuel).
A dream
To realize the feelings that are within me.
Favorite dish
Gumbo, a seafood soup.
A book
“Less Than One” (Joseph Brodsky)
Something that bugs you the most
Looking at the sun.
You have admiration for...
My teachers.
A quote
“Until One Is Committed” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe).