Samsara – Film Review

By David Matthews

“Samsara”; film, 2011 is a meditative documentary which journeys through some of the earth’s most vast and diverse natural and cultural spaces. The term “Samsara”; used in Hinduism and Buddhism, relates to the material world, and describes death and rebirth as a continuous movement or cycle of life and existence.  Directed by Ron Fricke, “Samsara” was made as a continuation to Fricke’s 1992 film “Baraka”, and the 1985 “Chronos” of a similar style, reuniting again with the same producer Mark Magidson.

As a non-narrative documentary, Samsara relies heavily on cinematic techniques like time-lapse, and music and audio to portray its message and build its themes of time and movement. It begins by delivering a unique view, opening the viewer’s horizon depicting striking natural scenery and landscapes, painting a picture of beauty and awe, capturing wondrous imagery of the earth. It progresses into the realm of human existence, portraying some diverse cultural and spiritual scenery, simple human existence with the interest of living sustainably and in harmony with the earth, showing images of religion, ritual, culture, and nature.

The progressions of the film though flows on to more populous environments, building to human contemporary civilisations; ritualistic, fast-paced cityscapes, which morphs the idea of this beautiful ever-moving cycle of life into a more contrasted, damaging perception of it. “Samsara” highlights the efficiency of our city’s using scenes of intertwining motorways and factory lines, and provokes repulse at scenes of meat industry, and human wasteful living. It shows concerns with the processed nature of our existence, and the results and effects of it, like fast food diet, obesity, cosmetic procedures, mass production, waste management, and firearms.

The musical score in “Samsara” was composed by Michael Stearns, Lisa Gerrard, and Marcello De Francisci. Stearns also worked on both “Baraka” and “Chronos”, and Gerrard collaborated also on “Baraka”. Dissimilar to “Baraka” and “Chronos” though, “Samsara” was edited without sound and compositions were altered to the edited imagery. The music highlights the films perspective using tempo and pitch to enhance the visual material, and persuade an emotive response. Its contrasts flow and sporadic movement, and nice and warm, calming tone with discord harmonies and tension. It takes a lot of influence from world music, utilising various instruments and scales.  The music’s unconventional nature and juxtapositions add to the films ebb and flow.

“Samsara” is produced in a way that doesn’t seem to attempt to persuade you of any particular political view; it instead shows you real scenes and images in a way to direct your thought to draw your own ideas and conclusions. It combines much diversity to bring about a collective self-awareness of us as humans, and our connection to our planet, not stating for good or bad, rather questioning for better or for worse.


‘Brief Encounters’ by Ben Shapiro – Film Review

By William Hadwen

Ben Shapiro’s documentary Brief Encounters, released October 2012, follows Gregory Crewdson’s photographic process during the making of his 8 year long series Beneath The Roses. Predominantly set in small-town American suburbia of western Massachusetts, he observes and presents a very unique cinematic photographic style, showing scenes of romanticised, ficticious, almost fantastical moments of contemplation and urban decay.

The film is very affecting, narrated primarily by interviews with the artist and also various writers and people who Crewdson works with to create this sublime imagery. A psychological tension festers in worlds that are seemingly real, searching for a moment – a perfect moment, with real characters who he has generally found locally. The viewing experience is enhanced by a very simple and mesmerising piano soundtrack.

Crewdson talks a lot about his own life within his work, drawing from past experience and observation. His father was a psychoanalyst with his practice in a room under the family home – young Gregory was not allowed in and it was always a place of ambiguity, curiosity and mystery. A fascination for what lies beneath really does come through in his work.

Each image is narrative based but without plot or character development, simply providing a tableau with real characters and an atmosphere accentuated with smoke machines and an excess of carefully considered lighting – it is up to the viewer to figure out the details for themselves and become immersed in the image. A very presonal narrative to anyone who takes the time to work it out.

The images in this series project a sense of social dilapidation, people and places perpetually aging, consumed with neglect and incompleteness. Depressingly fluorescent in their desperate dependence on the flawed American Dream.

With regard to his influences, Crewdson seems rather taken by scenarios that are initially inviting but with emerging unsettling and sinister potentialities, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and photographic works by Dianne Arbus. He is also known for directly referencing old movies such as Psycho –the hotel room used in one of Crewdson’s images, Untitled (Birth), looks very similar to that used in the film – there really are these layers, depths of understanding to his works that can reveal themselves over time. The Psycho reference really gives the image a disturbing atmosphere that I only suspected as a worst case scenario.

There is a real sense of ambiguity within his imagery, a blurring of reality and fiction.

Mr Nobody – Film Review

By Sophia Gambitsis

Whilst having a break from reading, I decided to google for the most recent movies on the web. My search was in vain however, as I’m quite picky. So I decided to change the search to ‘top mind fuck Movies’ and at last I found some really interesting films. (

Even though there were a number of different films on this list, the film ‘Mr Nobody’ stood out to me because of the visuals in the trailer as well as the advertised concept of transporting oneself into multiple worlds. In all honesty the main reason that Mr nobody stood out for me amongst the others was the fact that I loved those blue eyes shots.

Now if you love time films that contain romance, beautiful cinematography, colour and distortion of storytelling, you will love this film.  The film is set around a child’s decision on whether to pick mother or father to live with. As someone that cannot stick with one concept or idea in art, I can relate to this film well. The plot of this film was a great whirlwind of possibilities.

‘Mr Nobody’ is a film about the last living mortal man on Earth, played by Jared Leto. It starts with a Doctor trying to trace back his memories, and understand who he is. It is a splendid film about choice, which is symbolised nicely with train tracks, as every decision in life has the potential to take you on a different path. This movie makes one think harder about every decision, as even picking chocolate donuts over a cream donut could change your life forever. When a child is faced with choosing between his mother or father, he is about to make one of the biggest decisions of his life. The scene is framed at a train station where the boy’s mother is about to board a train with or without him. Who will he choose? Imagine all those things that keep you up at night which make you ask yourself ‘what if I’d done or said something differently?’ This film captures the idea of a universe where a single life can lead down an infinite number of paths. Now, can you find the real one in the film?

Blancanieves – Film Review

By Kane Laing

Fri 20 Mar 2015, 8:30pm (Films by Starlight – in Civic Square)

On Friday the 20th of march I was on my bike heading to the train station from university, I found myself cycling through Civic Square trying to find the fastest route to the train station. Obstructing my path was a crowd of people and a giant blow-up projector screen with a beautifully shot black and white silent film cast upon it. I thought to myself “Nice. That’s some beautiful cinematography”, and tried to weave through the crowd only to find there was no way out, and then i heard the incredible soundtrack and decided to watch for 30 seconds. I checked my watch and thought I could afford to watch for 10 minutes, that turned into 30, then into the rest of the 105 minute film (I managed to arrive at its beginning). It had sucked me in.


Sometimes when you know nothing about a film or an artwork and you stumble upon it, you can have a more pure experience, because no thoughts or expectations are bought into the experience. This was the case on my viewing of Blancanieves, a black and white silent film by Pablo Berger. I also had no idea that it was made in 2012 and not in the 1920s. What grabbed me first was its beautiful cinematography, compositions that evoked nuanced emotions and that magic of a transcending experience with a piece of art. The quality of the visual language of silent film was also very sharp and authentic to 1920s silent film.


The story follows a famous torero (matador) in spain who is mauled during a bull-fight and confined to a wheelchair, during this event his daughter is born and grew up not knowing her father. She escapes the clutches her father’s evil caregiver and begins her career as a torero with a travelling torero band. I had an inkling that I confirmed later that the film’s story was based on the Snow White fairy tale. The narrative is tastefully told and it is refreshing to have good visual story telling in a film, something that has suffered in the world of special effects and dramatic scripts.

The film setup in civic square by Films by Starlight is a wonderful and necessary part of cultural events in Wellington. If not for events like this, stumbling into a beautiful experience would not happen so often, and it is these accidental experiences where your art-guard is down that can be the most powerful and beautiful of all.

PICTURIN – Torino Mural Art Festival

By John Fuller, 15 March 2015

Documentary production 27 minutes

Torino or Turin (as Westerners call it), is a city in North West Italy of approximately 1 million people. It is probably best known as an industrial centre and the home of FIAT, Lancia and various other automotive brands. These industrial origins are reflected in much of the architecture, which is far removed from the more classical Italian cityscapes further south. Turin is a city which reflects the industry to which it owes its reputation.

It is perhaps no surprise then that the city has chosen to establish a mural art festival, murals being such an effective foil for the harsh colourless geometries of factories and apartment blocks. “Picturin” is a half hour production documenting the inaugural Torino Mural Arts Festival. This project was the first full collaboration between mural/street artists and local government, the later providing the canvas in the form of public buildings and spaces. The film follows the artists as they undertake ten large mural projects. They speak candidly about their work, their philosophies, dealings with the community and the authorities, with whom they all have had tempestuous relationships in the past. Most of them have had scrapes with the law and one even had to have his face obscured, presumably to hide his identity. What is interesting here is how many of these people have risen from being criminal graffiti artists, hanging out in alleyways, to become respected practitioners with international reputations for their work. It is also very enlightening to see them collaborating, which appears to be a common characteristic of large scale mural art.

Picturin is fast paced, visually interesting and refreshing in the way it interacts with the artists very much on their own terms i.e. at work and impromptu, almost in an improvised manner. It’s a clever mix of professional film making with a very natural, almost home movie like series of short monologues. The editing plays on this really effectively by leaving the clips open ended, or cutting them mid-point. The artwork itself is filmed as it is being created, quite often from cherry pickers or high vantage points to emphasise its scale.

In terms of my own practice, I found the interaction between the artists fascinating. In some instances they had only met days before, yet they were working to bring ideas and concepts together into cohesive works in very short time frames. In one case two of the artists did not even share the same language, yet they were able to collaborate effectively. Cleverly the organisers also invited local students and budding mural artists to assist, which ensures an element of ownership by the local community. I would certainly recommend Picturin to anyone with an interest in large scale community mural art.