• Ashley Gilmour

The Genius of Ron Fricke

Updated: Feb 21, 2019




There are many documentaries I enjoy, but few that I consider to be masterpieces. Ron Fricke’s Baraka and Samsara are two such films.


In fact, Baraka was one of the first documentaries I ever saw. I recall our family’s long drive from the Fraser Valley to Vancouver to watch it on the big screen at IMAX. As a young teenager sitting in a cold theatre, all I knew is that I had never seen anything like it. There was no obvious plot and no narration, and yet the images enchanted me alongside flawless soundscapes.


And today, as an emerging filmmaker, I continue to be humbled by Ron Fricke’s creations.


Why?


For one, there is a timeless quality to his work. In the same way that some homes are built to last, I believe his films will continue to move and impress us for years to come.


Samsara, for instance, was filmed in more than 25 countries in the span of 5 years and was shot in 70mm format. Ron Fricke doesn’t just pick up a camera and throw his footage into an editing timeline. Every angle, every shot, and every transition is embedded with meaning, especially in relation to the film as a whole.


His cinematic gems also stand out in a crowded market of documentaries that seem they were produced in a hurry. Quality takes time.


And so does art. We live in an age where the term is applied too readily and carelessly to anything that we create. I would reserve the term for films such as these.


But we tell ourselves that our pockets can’t afford to produce great art, so filmmakers (including myself) often fall prey to unrealistic and unhealthy pressures to produce something, anything. Consequently, we're tempted to undervalue our obligation, as I see it, to offer something meaningful and fulfilling to our viewers.


To quote Roger Scruton, an English philosopher specializing in aesthetics, “Art and music shine a light of meaning on ordinary life, and through them we are able to confront the things that trouble us and to find consolation and peace in their presence.”


I appreciate that both documentaries handle troubling issues with care. Portrayals of destitute poverty, environmental degradation, urban loneliness and slaughterhouses are realistic and often disturbing – but audiences are not ridiculed. Rather, audiences are encouraged to identify with a larger story – one that transcends our differences and that indeed unites us.


Above all, Ron Fricke's films awaken me to the need to simply be still and marvel.


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