FMP – Research – Powaqqatsi
‘The title POWAQQATSI is a Hopi Indian conjunctive — the word Powaqa, I which refers to a negative sorcerer who lives at the expense of others, and Qatsi –i.e., life.
Reggio’s second film, conveys a humanist philosophy about the earth, the encroachment of technology on nature and ancient cultures, and the splendour that disappears as a result. The film focuses on the modern way of life and the concept of the Global Village, entwining the distinctive textures of ancient and Third World cultures. POWAQQATSI was co-written, co-produced and directed by Reggio and composed by Philip Glass between 1985 and 1987.
POWAQQATSI’s overall focus is on natives of the Third World — the emerging, land-based cultures of Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America — and how they express themselves through work and traditions. What it has to say about these cultures is an eyeful and then some, sculpted to allow for varied interpretations. POWAQQATSI is also about contrasting ways of life, and in part how the lure of mechanization and technology and the growth of mega-cities are having a negative effect on small-scale cultures.’
Straight away there are striking images of the Third World and the Eastern way of life, with daily chores and rituals. The images showed of people working hard and enjoying the bare nature and basic civilisation is again a comparison to the technological world and way of the western civilisation. The images represent a strong and ripe sense of community and show the beauty of the simple life a life without technology also representing freedom. The sense of freedom comes from the images of people praying naked and in wide open spaces, children walking around naked, and people walking bare foot with no sense of uniformity. This is then contrasted with the new world praying in crowds in confined spaces fully clothed no sense of freedom or community, more uniformity as people are pretty much forced to conform, seen through the images of black people in officer uniforms marching in unison, those being transported on a boat, and school children in matching uniforms.
The contrast of men and women working to live makes causes you to think about what it is we do now in the westernised world, do we work just to make a living, or do we live to work? It is clear that as soon as technology and advancements come along, culture and rituals are chucked out and forgotten about this is evident from the old man at the end being the only one doing a cultural act in contrast to a scene before where everyone is watching two people perform the act and enjoying it. Just as in Koyaanisqatsi, where technology takes over nature, here in Powaqqatsi technology wipes clear and cultural acts or rituals and only the older generations have this knowledge and if not passed on the rituals and cultural history dies with them. If we took technology away would we know how to survive? Would we know of our cultural heritage and what rituals they possess?
Just form watching these two Reggio films, it is clear that having strong images is the most important thing of all if there are no words or speech. I also need to think about soundscape and music as this is the second if not joint first most important thing that carries these films along.