Since image is our main character we chose to work in the rarely used 70-millimeter format. Its larger negative yields a higher-quality image than the standard 35-millimeter size used on most films. (The very few motion pictures shot in 70mm include Lawrence of Arabia and 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
The production of Baraka was very demanding. Our goal was to take a minimal crew (five) to as many diverse locations as possible within the limits of an independent film’s budget. With few exceptions, we worked or traveled seven days a week, usually rising at 4 or 5 a.m., working past sunset, then plotting the details for the following day. Careful planning was partly a financial necessity; stock and processing costs for 70mm are more than double those of 35mm. During those 14 months on location, we shot only 17 1/2 hours of film.
Our trips were planned well in advance of our arrivals with local coordinators in each country. We also allowed for last-minute changes depending on factors like weather or the opportunity to access some particularly unusual subject matter—such as the oil fires in Kuwait—on short notice. There were a number of near disasters, including engine failure in a small plane over the Amazon rainforest, the discovery of landmines during one of our shoots in Cambodia and close shaves on one-lane mountain roads with animal-drawn carts and large trucks during a long road trip across the island of Java. We were fortunate that there were no serious illnesses or accidents within this intense period. As time went on, we became more and more immersed in this exhilarating but often grueling experience.
Traveling with 65 cases of equipment plus personal luggage, incredibly, we never lost a single bag on any flight. Among this equipment were two 70mm cameras, one of which was a special motion-control time-lapse camera that we had built especially for the film.
Seeing the constraints of life and death through the contexts of different cultures connected us in a very primal way with the people with whom we came into contact. Those seemingly endless individual encounters renewed our own lives’ exploration.
Mark Magidson (writer/producer) and Ron Fricke (writer/director) are the creators of Baraka, showing in this year’s festival, and Samsara, which is now playing in select cities.
Director/cinematographer: Ron Fricke
Writer/producer: Mark Magidson