list, film stills, behind-the-scenes photos and links to interviews and more info.
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1028 Scott Blvd., Covington KY 41011
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Sara Mahle Drabik
Filmmaker, educator and producer-director at Northern Kentucky University
CWC audiences are familiar with Sara, who frequently leads our post-film discussions. As producer-director for Norse Media and lecturer in Electronic Media & Broadcasting, Sara is currently teaching Media Literacy and leading special projects classes at Northern Kentucky University, where she received her M.A. in Communication, with Honors.
Sara brings extensive experience in teaching, production and media activism and her work focuses on documentary and community based projects that raise awareness of social issues and attempt to create positive social change.
After spending a year developing educational programs in Thailand, Sara worked for several years as the Education Coordinator for Media Bridges, a non-profit media arts organization in Cincinnati. Through her work, Sara brought the tools of video making and media analysis to classrooms throughout the city of Cincinnati. And, as curator of local film and video exhibitions presented quarterly by Underneath Cincinnati, Sara worked with many Tri-State area media artists, nurturing Cincinnati's emerging video community.
An active filmmaker herself, she studied film and photography at Ithaca College where she received her BFA in Film, Photography and Visual Arts in 1999. Ms. Drabiks's works have screened at the Cornell Cinema, the Olympia Film and Video Festival, the New England Experimental Film and Video Festival, as well as through community media programs across the country. In addition, she serves as the Chair for the Central States Regional Board for the Alliance for Community Media and is an active advocate for media reform issues on the local and national levels. Learn more: NKU-Electronic Media & Broadcasting
Photographer, designer and production manager at Lightbourne Communications
Jacob Drabik is a graphic designer and photographer living and working in Cincinnati. He graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a BFA in Graphic Design in 2000. That same year, he began managing the production work of local Photographer Thomas R. Schiff's large-scale, panoramic photographs. Jacob has worked on numerous book, magazine, and website designs. He began shooting in earnest in 2005 and is rarely seen without a camera.
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Prepare yourself for an unparalleled sensory experience – a visually lush, non-verbal film blended with world music. Samsara reunites director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson, whose award-winning films Baraka (1992) and Chronos (1985) were acclaimed for combining visual and musical artistry. "Samsara" is a word common in Eastern cultures meaning "the ever turning wheel of life," a concept both intimate and vast, obvious and oblique – the point of departure for the filmmakers as they search for the elusive current of interconnection that runs through the Universe and our lives.
Filmed over a period of almost five years at roughly 100 locations in twenty-five countries, Samsara transports us to sacred grounds, disaster zones, industrial sites, and natural wonders. By dispensing with dialogue and descriptive text, Samsara challenges our expectations of a traditional documentary, and instead encourages our own inner interpretations inspired by images and music that infuses 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. The film offers visual portraits of the spiritual belief systems of mankind – from the temples of Burma, India and Japan, to the churches of Paris, Sao Paolo and the Vatican, to Jerusalem, Istanbul and Mecca.
Neither a traditional documentary nor a travelogue, Samsara takes the form of a nonverbal, guided meditation. Through powerful images, the film illuminates the links between humanity and the rest of nature, showing how our life cycle mirrors the rhythm of the planet. Indeed, not all of the images shown are karmic depictions of natural wonder, and viewers may find a few to be disturbing. The filmmakers have chronicled changes wrought by man over the twenty years since the release of Baraka — population density, pollution, factory farms, recycling, robotics, sprawling garbage mounds, stewardship of our natural resources, etc.
In short, it is a film that can be viewed by anyone, speakers of any language, of any age, from any culture, each of whom will take away something different from the experience. In showing us a vast array of peoples, places, and natural formations on our earth, Fricke and Magidson simultaneously convey great beauty as well as the havoc we've enacted on our surroundings.
To appreciate Samsara, consider a team of visionary artists with a history of exceptional productions, willing to devote several years of their lives to capturing moments, feelings, scenes and cultures largely unknown to most of us. Add a sense of purpose embodying spiritual, aesthetic and philosophical constructs, then leaven this foundation with a cinematic style intended to remove the distractions of characters, dialogue and external agenda.
The end product – Samsara – offers each and every viewer the opportunity of interpreting the work in any manner they desire. The process is not drastically different from viewing a great work of art. The relevance and importance of a given painting or sculpture or performance piece, etc., lies within the senses and intellect of the beholder. The viewer's assessment can range from basic appreciation to sublime enlightenment.
Planning for Samsara, filmmakers Ron Ficke and Mark Magidson had four principal concerns involving film and technology: shooting, editing, presenting and archiving. Tech Note: large format film is shot on 65mm stock and the negative is printed on 70mm stock, with 5mm additional width allocated for sound tracks. The terms 65mm and 70mm are used interchangeably to describe the same thing; 70mm is the most common term of reference with regard to what people see on the screen and thus used in this writing.
Shooting in digital would have been relatively easy and less expensive, while lugging three 70mm cameras and assorted lenses into remote locations was not a pleasant task. The filmmakers chose 70mm for several reasons: 4K digital gear was not as refined or road-worthy five years ago when shooting started. They did not want to shoot on lower quality digital and have to up-convert to 4K for presentation. The fidelity and richness of 70mm film is unsurpassed with a quality and feel that digital has yet to match. In a film without actors or dialogue, imagery is the main character and high quality is essential.
Director/Cinematographer Ron Fricke used both standard frame rates and a special motion control time-lapse camera designed specifically for this project. This camera system allowed him to shift perspectives to reveal extraordinary views of scenes that might otherwise appear more ordinary.
Editing Samsara was done digitally, in a non-linear fashion; unlike Baraka which was linear and edited from film. The filmmakers had 20 hours of footage – a small amount – shot over the course of five years. But it was a very targeted 20 hours. Because they were shooting 65mm film, they couldn't just roll the cameras on everything and shoot for hours on end, the way you can with digital. Hence, by necessity, the shooting concept was minimalist.
Editing creates the storyline. They used the term "guided meditation" to describe the method of making this film. "It's really made in the edit, after you've gone out for years shooting and you're in the cutting room," said Fricke. "In this case, we did it without music or sound, – the soundtrack was added later. We cut together blocks of subjects, and we let the image kind of dictate how it was forming. If you're an editor, then you know if you put together two, three or four images, it begins to say something about that subject that you're working with. Those images flow into the next block and you get the sense of how things are interconnected, and that's what we mean by guided meditation."
Presentation via 70mm prints would be expensive and the number of 70mm theatres, both in the U.S. and worldwide is not that large. After experimenting with 1K, 2K and 4K digital formats, they decided that 4K was the best format to depict all of the information from the 70mm film. The film elements were scanned to a digital intermediate format allowing stunning imagery without appearing artificial.
The final 4K rendering of Samsara takes a staggering 30TB (terrabytes) of hard drive space. By comparison, a 3TB drive is about the largest single drive you can buy for your computer. As a result, the filmmakers believe Samsara is the ultimate showpiece for both HD format and high-resolution digital projection, as well as standard 35mm film projection.
Archiving was straightforward. When shooting in digital it is difficult to order and store all of the digital footage. It is typically stored onto tape. But as storage technology moves along studios are looking to inexpensive hard drives, already finding that they cannot always play back footage stored on older formats of tape, as the newer formats come along. Film, on the other hand, is self ordering and self archiving. As long as the negative is stored in the right environment, it should last over 100 years.