While Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi focus on the social, psychological and spiritual impacts of the evolution of industrial development over the past two centuries, Naqoyqatsi is a reflection on the immense, ongoing transformation of global experience that has culminated in the arrival of digital technologies. The grimmest of the Qatsi films, it was Reggio’s attempt “to have the courage to be hopeless,” as he says today. Fittingly, the formative metaphor of the film is the Tower of Babel, as depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in one of his 1563 paintings of the biblical story—the opening image of Naqoyqatsi. In the story, God sees humanity’s quest to maintain unity and achieve the divine by building a tower to the heavens as a threat, both to the well-being of the earth’s people and to his own dominance, and he foils their plans, scattering them across the continents and frustrating their ability to communicate by forcing them to speak myriad languages. In the world of Naqoyqatsi, viewers are lost in the maze of visual “languages” that have arrived with the panoply of modern technologies dedicated to investigating people, engaging them in meaningless communication, selling them an endless supply of products, distracting them with spectacles, and facilitating their violence against one another. The title’s translation—again revealed only as a conclusion—confirms this: naqoyqatsi means, “1. a life of killing each other. 2. war as a way of life. 3. (interpretation) civilized violence.” Naqoyqatsi evokes various dimensions of our ever-more-virtual world by recycling and refashioning materials from commercial and technological sources. Within the darkness of this virtual “light,” only Philip Glass’s elegant score provides an echo of hope. – Scott MacDonald
Screening of Naqoyqatsi, with discussion with Haden Guest, Godfrey Reggio, and Dan Liebsohn and Q/A with audience. Sunday 22 September 2019.
HADEN GUEST 0:00
--Very special evening. Tonight we are seeing the last film of the so-called Qatsi Trilogy: Naqoyqatsi from 2002. Directed of course by Godfrey Reggio, who is here tonight to present and to discuss this important yet rarely screened film. On Friday night we of course saw the live performance, many of you enjoyed that exhilarating live performance of Koyansqatsi; last night we saw Powaqqatsi and tonight we complete the trilogy with this final film. This film was 11 years in the making. And I feel like all, like each of the Qatsi films has truly been ahead of its time and I feel like we're just catching up to them. I think Koyaanisqatsi is now recognized as an enduring classic, as a truly visionary film. Powaqqatsi, I feel like it's just beginning to be recognized as a really seminal meditation on the global condition; and Naqoyqatsi as you'll see tonight is a truly prescient and urgent film that I think speaks very much to the present moment in which we live. In each of these three films, Godfrey Reggio set out to really to do … He challenged himself to really create a different kind of language of the moving image, working I should say each time in extremely close, intimate collaboration with a great composer, Philip Glass. And in this film, we see a completely different kind of image. We are seeing the digital image: we're seeing the virtual image, we are seeing this mirror image of that in which I feel like we live so much of our lives today. Chasing after shadows of ourselves, on the internet, on our devices through which we seem to be ever-chained. And they tell us how long we've been there and how long we will be there, they seem to predict and to speak quite ominously to so much of who we are today and who were expected to be. And I feel like this film speaks directly to this lamentable, I think, condition. It is a film, as I said, that doesn't screen as much as the other two and I think it deserves to be seen and it deserves to be reconsidered and deserves to be thought of in terms of today. And so I really want to hail it as, I think, a classic and yet still misunderstood film and I'm really so thrilled that we can rediscover it together tonight. This weekend is a celebration not just of Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass’s work together but also the acquisition by the Harvard Film Archive and the Houghton Library of the papers of Godfrey Reggio and the Institute for Regional Education, the IRE, which is the Santa Fe, not-for-profit organization that has been the nerve center of Reggio cinema from the very beginning. And to speak at the very beginning, we need to speak about an extraordinary project, a Privacy Campaign that was the first major project of the IRE and it's the first moving image work by Godfrey Reggio. This is in the archive and we're going to be seeing that tonight before Naqoyqatsi. It's a work from 1974 that screened on public television in New Mexico and it galvanized the public there and it was a really one-of-a-kind consciousness-raising intervention. And it was part of a much more elaborate campaign that included billboards, literature, and much more. And I'm so thrilled that we have many members of the IRE who are here, who come from Santa Fe, North Dakota, other parts of the country. And I want to welcome them here tonight, and we're gonna have a conversation afterwards with Dan Leibsohn, who's one of the important -- they're important figures who did a lot of the seminal research behind this campaign. Those of you who are in the IRE, if you could please stand so we can see you and recognize you. Hey, there they are. Thank you!
HADEN GUEST 4:44
We also need to thank Dan Noyes. Dan Noyes made possible Koyaanisqatsi and really in truth, everything that came after. Through his generosity, for a long time he was the anonymous angel. And we've been able to lift that veil and to celebrate his unflagging support, his support that also made possible the acquisition of Reggio IRE papers, so please stand Dan to be recognized and thanks.
HADEN GUEST 5:27
So while the papers will be--now are accessible at Houghton Library, where they reside alongside the likes of Emily Dickinson, the papers of Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Samuel Johnson, and Teddy Roosevelt, and many, many more. The films, of course, are here at the Harvard Film Archive. And what we're going to be seeing tonight, we're going to see a beautiful 35 vintage millimeter print of Naqoyqatsi. The Privacy Campaign however has not been preserved. Its original is 16 millimeter and so this is a project that we're really looking forward to completing. So what you're going to be seeing now is kind of inter- it's a digital, a digitization of the 16 millimeter print. So this is not how the work is. It's not a final preservation, but it's just a safety copy of sorts. It will allow us to see and appreciate this really visionary work. And I'm going to invite Godfrey Reggio to the podium to introduce tonight's program and I really want to thank him for being here tonight. Those of you who were here last night know what an extraordinary raconteur he is, so look forward to what will follow. And now with no further ado, please join me in welcoming Godfrey Reggio.
Haden Guest 7:04
I wanted to begin by talking about the Privacy Campaign and I know and this gentleman here, Daniel Leibsohn, played a major role in realizing this project and doing research for it. And I wondered if you could take us back to speak about the goals of this project and how it took form. I mean, what was it that, what were the urgent issues? More specifically that were, that inspired this project and how did it take shape?
DANIEL LEIBSOHN 7:41
The evolution of the program, I think, there were four of us involved and everyone probably had a slightly different vision. Godfrey, if you all know who Saul Alinsky is? Probably the most famous, and probably the most famous community organizer in US history. Godfrey had gone to his training school. So Godfrey looked at the situation in one way, Steve Golden right there. And Roger who's not here and myself, we all had slightly different visions. But at the time, this was 1972. And the Vietnam War was coming to an end, President Nixon was bringing home the troops. And there were inconsistencies or things that didn't seem accurate or honest, in our opinion. So we wanted to look at it from an organizing perspective, a political perspective and raise certain issues. A lot of the technologies that were used in the war had already been started to be used in, here in the United States, in the inner cities and black communities in particular. And that was, I think, the initial impetus. Would you agree with that? It's been a long time.
GODFREY REGGIO 9:18
It seems like only yesterday.
HADEN GUEST 9:21
Well, certainly in terms of these issues of privacy, these are anything but I mean, absolutely central now to, to the world we live in, though I think we often, I think that many people have seemed to have forgotten how urgent this issue truly is. And I was wondering if you could speak then about the response to this campaign and what form it actually took because the television spots which were each individual spots, right that appeared not, as we saw them all together in one sequence. But they're also accompanied by billboards, by literature and I was wondering if you could speak about the entire campaign of which we've just seen one piece and I asked this question both to you Godfrey and to you Dan.
DAN LEIBSOHN 10:13
If you remember when they were just played, the first one, it was an eye that was clicking. At the same time that the TV ad was playing. There were little ads in the newspaper with little eyes. Throughout in the Santa Fe newspaper, in the Albuquerque Journal. There was, on a billboard in between Santa Fe and in Albuquerque, there was a billboard of a huge eye.
GODFREY REGGIO 10:40
There were 40 billboards at high traffic density areas and on highways.
DAN LEIBSOHN 10:45
I’d forgotten that we had 40. Thank you. It was caught in the radio and what you heard on radio mostly was the eye clicking if you, if you remember that part. So in with each different TV ad there was a coordinated set of ads in all the other media.
GODFREY REGGIO 11:08
Let me -- can I add to that, please? We had radio at drive time. We had billboards at high traffic density areas. We had television in prime time, we inserted the equivalent of a small book into, which was of paper, what 50-60 pages of whatever it is, can’t remember, into the newspaper we had. I think we had over 175,000 prints made at the time, what we were trying to do is a saturation mixed-media campaign, so that it would be unavoidable to come into contact with. And let me say this: what we did was analyze the nature of commodity advertising. And what we found out is that while all of them appeared different, they were actually all quite the same in terms of their aesthetic. And so, as much as possible, we tried to get our billboard put in the middle of all these other boards that look different, but were really homogenous in what they were doing. So if you had this girl with E. Gordon Liddy’s social security number on, they didn't have to know it was Gordon Liddy's. But this was the first time they were giving the universal identifier, not when you turned 18 or whatever it was, but when you were born. So that in the middle of all these commercial boards stuck out like a sore thumb. Stevie, do you remember we used to sit by the Billboard and watch the people come by, and they would all of a sudden have a conscious moment because the others were so normal you didn't observe them. They were observing you. So that's what I wanted to say.
DAN LEIBSOHN 13:03
But people didn't really know what was going on. All the ads were nonverbal and silent, as you saw, until the last couple. So it was something we could almost feel people were talking about it. They didn't know what it was. They didn't know what it meant. There was some discussion, I believe in the letters to the editor and comments on the radio and TV occasionally. So it was designed as a community organizing approach. But it it was, it was designed in a way to build up to a real crescendo and an ending where people would be really attuned to listening to and hearing our message
HADEN GUEST 13:47
It seems so astute really, the way you use these, you know, these different media in a coordinated campaign and I was, how did this idea take shape? I know you were …. You talked about reading, for instance, Jacques Ellul and Guy Debord and others. And so now could you speak a little bit more about like perhaps other ideas you might have experimented with, or you know, or other forms, because this could have taken many, many different forms. But you chose such a striking use of these, of these nonverbal images that really just come right at you. And I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about this, about the rhythm, let's say of this campaign, how it was how it unfolded.
DAN LEIBSOHN 14:39
Again, there were only four of us. And the goal was to try to reach as many people as possible with a message about things that were going on at the time. And with four of us, there wasn't much community organizing that we could do directly. So we try to find, we tried to find some larger way. We looked at a number of different topics. And there was a list of them. I think I've got them somewhere in a box, but I can't, I only remember one other one. And that one was tourism. And we looked at tourism because of the issues that tourism -- especially Santa Fe, but New Mexico in general was a major tourist area. And the tourism was part of an immense inequality that existed in the state, and probably still does, I'm sure to this day, but probably in a different way. And we thought about that, but that really didn't lend itself to a media campaign. It's difficult to take those concepts and turn them into a media campaign. So we kept looking and going back to the real thing that I mentioned, with the use of technology from the war that was starting to be applied internally in the United States, we started looking at that. And from there several other issues that at the time we probably weren't as aware of became more visible to us. And it was -- we started looking and seeing that there's more record keeping going on and other kinds of surveillance. So we started researching it. And so the concept evolved from there.
GODFREY REGGIO 16:33
I will say, you know, we, we all three never agreed on much of anything. And it was not an ideological collective. It was an activist collective. And it was more than four of us actually because it reached immediately to Ray Jimenez, who introduced me, he said “I have the perfect person for you, Ron Fricky.” Who is Ron Fricky? “He's doing portraits on the plaza right now, Godfrey.” So that was the beginning of that relationship. Ron did what you saw here on a wind-up bolex. The value of that it has for those of you that are … oh well, you can't be filmmakers anymore. You live in the digital age, but it had a backlog on it, which means perfect frame registration, which means you could do in-camera animation with a windup camera. Brilliant. So they don't make things that good anymore. So it was the real beginning of a direction. And not only was it efficacious, this project, because it was at a saturation. I can't stress that enough: a saturation, mixed-media level, unavoidable in the language of the medium we were talking about. Not trying to convince someone through writing, that came later. It was through that medium of visual and aural that people are inescapably connected to. As a result of that campaign, then we took public opinion from somewhere in the high teens to the low 60s. We had a guy, Gerald Goldfabre? Was that his name? From the University of New Mexico, a statistician. And we knew that the political conventions were coming up right after this, knowing that politicians do the right thing for the wrong reason, have their feet in the hip pocket on cloud 96. As soon as they saw that this became an issue to the public. The public school systems were starting, because of the campaign, eliminating Ritalin in schools for children. They were getting the state legislature decided not to put the social security number on the driver's license. Manuel Luhan Jr., who became a representative and went on to become the Secretary of Interior, sponsored, ran on a platform against, if you can believe this, operant conditioning, behavioral modification and eliminating psychosurgery in all federal penitentiaries. And when he got to Congress, he fulfilled his duty and did that with some Democrats. He was a Republican. So this affected the political structure. And we felt it was a very successful event. So Dan Noyes and Steve Golden and I packed our bags and went to the national office and somehow convinced them to do this. We were planning a big conference at the University of Chicago with the Senator Irvin Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, which was the Watergate Committee, which the report that we did was incorporated into the congressional report. We knew there the chief counsel for the committee, the Watergate committee and they decided to help us do a Chicago conference for congressmen and we would spy on them without them noticing it except in the bathroom. So that was all set up. And then the person that invited us, Aryeh Neier, the head of the ACLU got canned for reasons nothing doing with us. And the projects that were with him went right down the toilet. So we went back to Santa Fe a little, you know, upset. Ron and I sat down and Koyaanisqatsi started. And Dan came to the rescue. Thank you, Dan. And that's kind of the story.
HADEN GUEST 20:46
Now for those of you who would like to learn more, we have a case out front in which we have select papers from the Reggio IRE collections, and you can see some of the original literature and some images related to the campaign including billboards. So definitely, definitely pause and take a look at those and if you’re interested in doing even deeper research, you'll be able to do that at Houghton Library as well by consulting the papers themselves. Now, oh, to speak of this, the move to your next project, Koyaanisqatsi, it's really fascinating to see within these very short spots, certain ideas that are going to be expanded. We see this in the use of the kind of motion study, we see this, this cross cutting between the rat and the traffic, you know ...
GODFREY REGGIO 21:36
Yes … you picked that up when you did the long interviews ...
HADEN GUEST 21:39
Exactly. But there's also something else that points also towards the film that we just saw as well the feature film Naqoyqatsi, the use of these symbols of money, of like advertising --
GODFREY REGGIO 21:50
Religion and corporations, the Siamese twins of modernity.
HADEN GUEST 21:57
So and it's again, it's just remarkable to me the kind of fixity with which, you know, these ideas have remained across these films, how, regardless of how diverse and really truly different they are. And as I guess, sort of think about how we come then to Naqoyqatsi, you know, I feel like this is a film again, in which we have, you know, the gaze is important, but instead it's this idea of the non-human gaze, I feel like is what this film is, is dealing a lot with the idea of the image itself, right, it's -- each of the films have a different score, of course by Philip Glass, they have a different rhythm, a different tone, a different feel, a different kind of moving image, image that moves us.
GODFREY REGGIO 22:53
But all of them are like making butter, it's churning around the same tree, and that tree is for me the most misunderstood subject ever. And it's technology. We labor under the opinion that technology is neutral. It's the use or misuse one makes of that and I think that's, if I'm not being exaggerated, I think that's academia’s point of view as well generally. Looking at it quite differently, technology has its own imperatives, its own, in other words, I feel without getting into a talk about it really, that we're on for the ride, we're strapped in. And technology is not this thing that we use or this vacuum cleaner or this new Lexus car or whatever it, it's the very organization of life itself. It began with, I know what, well let me just mention it. For the land had to have mother tongue, the nation state. And Nebrija, who was the great developer of the Castilian Dictionary, of which Don Quixote was the first example, told Queen Isabella in 1492 that if you wanted to control your subjects, more powerful than an army would be to homogenize the language of your realm into one form of Spanish, Castilian Spanish. So that nation states for me are the first grand technology of the modern era. And they have a mother tongue and, of course, we see the world through language. So the limits of our language of course are the limits of how we see the world. And technology is not something that I think we have the language to discuss. So we tried, I tried with the people I work with, and none of us, nobody, we didn't have an ideological frame of reference for any of the films, I was, like considered fixated on something. As long as I was satisfied, everybody was happy. But we didn't share the same points of view about a lot of stuff. But I wanted to see technology made visible in terms of the commentary that we would make about it. So the forum would have to be experiential.
HADEN GUEST 25:29
Now, it's really interesting to think about the way you speak about the importance of technology to all the projects and they all also express cinematic technology, you speak about the Bolex, windup Bolex making possible the early film. The early spots. We could think about Ron Frike's innovations as an inventor of cameras.
GODFREY REGGIO 25:48
He was building cameras!
HADEN GUEST 25:49
Exactly, he was building cameras specific to make possible some of the incredible shots in Koyaanisqatsi. By the time we come to the final film it's digital technology. That's right? You're, you're manipulating, as you said reanimating the image here with technology that wasn't available before. So there's a point of which you're also harnessing, shall we say, cinematic technology itself?
GODFREY REGGIO 26:17
Well, now you make the point that eliminated a fair amount of money from these projects because we were going to people who were angels, who were willing to make a bad deal for love of the project or a burnt offering, but some people said, “Well, you're talking, you know, you're telling me all this stuff about technique and technology, but you use the highest technology available, you're hypocritical. So how do you answer that?” You say “Yes, sir. Yes, thank you very much. I'm going to embrace that contradiction and live with it at the same time.” So it's like a forest fire, you fight fire with fire and so to not accept that or to try to rationalize it would be stupid. We're using the very medium in each film without exaggeration in the highest form, and in several cases, developing media that in all cases, developing media that was not already there ourselves. So we were using a very high tech form as the way to, as a way of commentary on the form that was the subject of the films. And all the films are about the same subject. They're just looking at it from another point of view. So that's what I meant when, in order to do this, one has to be committed, but not with grace and gratuity, like to an insane asylum.
HADEN GUEST 27:53
Now, part of the animation or reanimation of these images is, it gives them, in speaking of Naqoyqatsi, gives them this quality of being almost specters, or ghosts. We see these wax figures, we see these, you know, heat images and I was wondering if you could, if you could talk about this. Because there's a sense in which the film suggests this sort of image-world as being ungraspable, as being elusive, as being always, far away, tantalizingly close, yet far away.
GODFREY REGGIO 28:34
But you know, this is a good -- I don't know how to answer your question, but I'm going to answer it in a way maybe that's different. Each person, I said this before, but it's real -- these films have much more in them than those that made them thought they put into them. It's like a poem. A poem, if it has a life of its own, is going to go beyond what the author thinks they put into the poem. It takes on literally a life of its own. So I didn't think of it in the terms you've ever said. But the film was speaking, you were finishing the film in that way. So the film has an open a, a -- it leaves open the possibility not for telling you what the thing, but for you to discover, for you to discover how you feel in relationship to it. We did everything we -- for those of you that are into tech, we stretched the images to 16:9. And some people kept telling us “Gee there are mistakes, they screwed up the projection. It's not looking right.” We wanted it to have that TV look. So everything was distorted in a way. Those images that we relocated on and really tortured, technically, digitally, were a way of trying to speak to your aesthetic triplets of sensation, emotion and perception. Not to give you the clarity of a thought. Because these films are non-mental. They're not aimed at your head. They're aimed at your solar plexus. So we felt messing with the medium itself, with the color, with the framing, with the music. Philip being very perceptive realized this film was completely, in terms of this visualization, technological, which was by design. He said, “Well, if I write a score that's zippy, I'm going to write a completely organic score.” And I wanted a cello as the main voice. And then we had a beautiful cello and Yo-Yo Ma showed up. Now, I didn't ask him to join. In fact, nobody asked me if it was okay. I was informed “Gee whiz, Yo-Yo Ma’s gonna come and play the music now!” And I had already become in love with the cellist that was playing for us. He was incredible. But that's how he got involved, because he asked to be involved.
HADEN GUEST 31:11
No and it's the voicing is, I think so interesting because you have, each of the films has a different as you said, tone, a different musicality here. But this is a film about kind of the fractured image, is everything I think being sort of torn apart. And this music has a continuity, sort of that sort of unity that I feel like the other films with the discrete movements, I think it's more into separate, into separate chapters.
GODFREY REGGIO 31:47
So it was full of vortexes in the beginning, all throughout, even at the end, you know, going in, like we'd leave on this very positive note, of we're off-planet now and bye-bye. So it's like Icarus in some way. But it's, we're off-planet from the point of view of these, of all of these films but that in particular, we are the alien here. In the Middle Ages, people were seeing angels all over the place, I kid you not, you can check it for yourself. Because that was the dominant culture in which they lived in Christian Europe. Here, we're seeing aliens all over the place, because the dominant world we live in is an environment of technology. We are the aliens. And that's what this, these films have tried to say.
HADEN GUEST 32:43
Now, this film was 11 years in the making, and I was wondering if you could speak about the ways in which the film or the project evolved during this, during this waiting period, which was also a ripening period I think. And because again, this film is so much of its time and of this time now. And I wonder if that longer period of gestation, didn't in fact help.
GODFREY REGGIO 33:08
It allowed me to bite my fingernails from here to there. It was a very hard, hard amount to follow. It took, as you said, 11 years. It was the longest of all of the projects to get funding for. And really, it was a source of despair. So we came up with an idea that some in the group thought was mentally ill, that we were going to try to conjure the money through the New York Times. Now I'm not kidding. This is the real story. In 2000, at BAM, there was two of the films and Anima Mundi and Evidence played live and Philip Glass at that time had had so much publicity in the New York Times that they said, “Please we can't cover him again. Who's this guy Reggio?” And so they said, “Would you be willing to, you know, speak for the films at BAM?” And I said, “No, I wouldn't. I would like to speak about the new film we would like to do, that the group would like to do.” And as it turns out, I didn't know at the moment, John Rockwell had become the new cultural editor at the New York Times. Well, I happen to have known him. He was good enough to assign the film critic of the Boston Globe, Ty Burr, to come and interview. I went to New York. I think on the, right after Tony died on the second of March, I think on the fifth, I was there. I did an interview and on March the 19th the angel was conjured through the New York Times, because Ty Burr let me speak exclusively about the new project. At three o'clock in the afternoon Soderbergh's producer calls Philip Glass because he knew Philip and says, “How can we get in touch with this guy Godfrey? We want to give them the money.” So that's how we got the money. And that's a true story. So Larry and I went out what a day or two later, Larry? And the first thing Steven does, he looks at me and he says, first of all, I can't believe you can't get the money. But he says, I have a big question for you. Do you have now after all this time, the emotional fortitude to do this if I should give you the money? And of course I said immediately, of course! You have to act as if you know what you're doing: you want to make films. So that's that was the story and then Larry went to business with him. And ...
HADEN GUEST 35:58
Again, another canny use of media. Yes, please?
DAN LEIBSOHN 36:04
I'm pretty, I hope you're okay with what I'm going to say. But I think there's more to the story that's really important. Your question really hinted at this. And you see Godfrey is incredibly articulate and able to explain things that are almost unexplainable. But the other part of the story is that he suffered a great deal. He's, he's sacrificed tremendously. After the media campaign, I left and went to California. But we've stayed in touch of course, and I know the history of these and the sacrifices that he and his family has made have been enormous. He's worked so hard to create a completely honest, a true and complete and uncompromising expression of his vision.
GODFREY REGGIO 37:25
You're making me nervous Dan, this should be for the obituary section. Not right now, not while I'm sitting, I'm so sorry. But I wanna ...
DAN LEIBSOHN 37:48
Well, I've got more so just sit there and take this. You’ve interrupted my, my train of thought which was, which was winding around anyway. I just think it's important to, to understand the personal side of this, and in what it's taken. Again, you see an incredibly expressive person here, but behind it has just been an incredibly difficult journey. And not just for one or two years. It's been for decades. As he sought this expression of his vision. Godfrey, Godfrey walks the walk and that is really rare in this world. Back in those days, much earlier, now and probably in the future, and it's, it's been truly amazing. Thank you. Thank you.
HADEN GUEST 38:46
Thank you, Dan. Let's take some questions and comments from the audience. I'm sure. There must be some, we have a question right here if you'll pass the microphone? Thank you very much.
Thank you for your films. I'm curious where you started because we in this, we start with you creating these PSAs. But your filmmaking, where did it start? How long ago? I read a little bit about your background in the paper that they have here. And I'm just curious.
GODFREY REGGIO 39:23
I think I can give you that. I was a Christian brother. A Christian brother is like a male nun. If you were looking at us in the military, we were the foot soldiers. The Jesuits are the generals. Okay, so we were the most humble order in the church, but a huge order of monks, the first order of brothers that were not priests, because if you have brothers and priests, the brothers serve the priests rather than do a job. All religious orders take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, but they also take special vows, specific to the intention of the order. My order was founded to teach the poor gratuitously. Now, like with most spirits of the founder, the longer you go from the time of the origin of the order then that file becomes vestigial. So when I became a brother, of course, I left home at 14, very zealous, didn't know what I was getting into. And I entered the Middle Ages, literally from La Dolce Vita, New Orleans. Okay, and, and … what am I trying to say, though?
HADEN GUEST 40:39
How you began as a filmmaker?
GODFREY REGGIO 40:42
Oh, yes. So, so, teaching the poor gratuitously I went, I was assigned to a school where they were just a few token poor people, okay. But I lived in a community where fully 40% of the community lived in dire poverty: Santa Fe, New Mexico. We were considered an indigent county. There were a lot of kids in gangs. And here I was teaching in a Christian brothers studio school with a vow to teach the poor gratuitously. So I made my superiors let me go teach the poor gratuitously by driving them nuts. Okay, where's you because you take a vow of obedience, you have to listen to what your superior says. But I wouldn't say no for an answer. Troubled by questions all my life like a madman, I have been knocking on the door. It opened. I had been knocking from the inside, rooming. I was knocking from the inside. And they finally gave me permission. And I went out and worked with street gangs. And to make a long story short during the course of that, I came in touch with a film called Los Olvidados, or Tthe Young And the Damned by Luis Buñuel, a masterpiece done in 19 -- the late 40s, early 50s. It was, it was almost thrown out of Mexico. And when it went to Cannes, it won the prize, it came back. Everybody in Mexico loved it then. It was spit upon in Mexico when he released it. It was Octavio Paz who loved it. And it was beautiful. So that movie was about street gangs in Mexico City. I'm working in the barrios of New Mexico, with street gangs. At that time, I weighed about 260 pounds. And I was a giant walking around with medieval clothes on and the kids love that. Who's this dude? So I, seeing that film was not, it didn't, you know, it wasn't like to entertain me, it touched my heart. Now I couldn't do what the master did. But I decided if that film could have such an effect on me spiritually, and of the gangs I work with, which it did. And that's what I want to do. And so Buñuelbecame my, you know, my, my new Jesus as it were. And that's how I got into film.
HADEN GUEST 43:26
Other questions or comments for Godfrey Reggio? Do we have any ones? Yes, right here in the front.
Thank you. Last time I was in this room I think was 30-some years ago, and I took an undergraduate class here. It was very boring. This was wonderful. So good to come back. Thank you so much.
GODFREY REGGIO 43:47
Hey, thank you.
Oh, and thank you to both of you. And also to you. How does this not get stale? How do you connect? How do you connect to new generations, to young people, to keep the mission going?
GODFREY REGGIO 44:06
Well, you know, as I said, I look at these films as children. That might sound extreme, but I am not, I mean that, okay? If you do something like we're doing here with the IRE we have to live many lives and die many deaths. I mean, I have so many friends I can never see anymore because I'm obsessed with the next project. So what I'm saying is to answer your question, and I'll go back to what I said before, these films have much more in ‘em than I put into ‘em. If you've had children, you must know that okay. Well, you created them. They have their own life, their own voice, they can say things beyond what you do. So these films have remarkably been played over and over again, in repertory. When they were beginning, they played 21 weeks in New York and 19 in LA, which you can't do anymore, really. And now Philip has played this with an orchestra for over 325 or 50 times, I can't remember. So I'm going to answer your question now with that in mind. Two summers ago, between Amsterdam and Rotterdam at a huge outdoor venue of about 17,000 people, they played Koyaanisqatsi live with Philip. I wasn't there, I heard about it. 17,000 kids who had not seen the film before, basically, so there's a new group of people coming in and can I be upset about that? They don't pay me any money for it, but I'm happy they're there. So it's getting a new audience and why not? So I'm happy about that.
HADEN GUEST 45:59
Oh, and I should say, you know, our mission is to keep these films alive as well, as long as they're here at the Harvard Film Archive they will be available.
GODFREY REGGIO 46:08
With Harvard, we can all wish we at least they'll live as long as Methuselah.
HADEN GUEST 46:15
Any final questions or comments to be made? Yes, right here.
Hey, Godfrey, it’s Richard.
GODFREY REGGIO 46:26
It seems to me that the Privacy Campaign was more about, clearly about activism than creating art. For example, I must say, I'm assuming by the time you get around to making Koyaanisqatsi, you had some sort of, you know, idea about filmmaking that you got from Buñuel or whatever, but I'm just stepping back for when I first saw Koyaanisqatsi when I was about 20 years old. It was like for so many people, it was a, you know, a kick to the gut. A kick to the gut.
GODFREY REGGIO 47:04
You said what?
A kick to the gut.
GODFREY REGGIO 47:06
And to the head. Because I came not from the Middle Ages of monkhood, but I was in this classical music world. And for the first time, there was a package of a thing that I could see and listen to. That changed not only my perspective on the world that I was living in, which talks to your kind of advocacy, but with Philip’s music, it was all for the first time modern music showed itself to be viable in a way that I had never considered. It was a new visual language. It was a new musical language, and it was as powerful as the great masterpieces of classical music that I had come across. So when you had your Bunuel experience, I had my Koyaanisqatsi experience.
GODFREY REGGIO 47:54
There you go.
Well, so what I'm getting to with the advocacy part is, and to touch on this guy's question about new generations, is, I was excited by it. And as time goes by when I see these things like the privacy campaign, the world is obviously much, much worse. Much, much worse. I mean, the invasiveness of all these things, this thing that you said about the social security number for kids never even occurred to me until tonight. That's messed up. So when I look at things like Koyansqaatsi, being about the environment, and now that's, what 35 years ago, and it's much much worse, and the issues that are touched upon in Naqoyqatsi, it's much, much worse. And for my, after seeing Koyansqaatsi, I took a look forward at what, what can I do as responding to this sort of advocacy campaign whether you were considering doing that in that way at all. And, and I was driven towards Philip Glass and now I’ve made, you know, 150 Philip Glass albums, and I decided I was going to react to this with trying to create some beauty and being a part of that. But as I look forward, with things being so bad and going into a trajectory towards that we're along for the ride of technology as you say … What do you see? I mean, I continue you're gonna continue making films, but what do you actually think is gonna happen? Of the trajectory of the world?
GODFREY REGGIO 49:33
Oh, well, I mean, don't ask me. How about what you think? I'm not, these films are not about giving the answer. It's based on Aristotle: the question is the mother of the answer. So these are to raise questions that you can answer, not me. I don't believe in saving the world. I think that's a megalomaniac thing. I remember years ago, Up With People? “If only we could all be, have moral rearmament, the world would change.” It's a lot of BS! We're fragile human beings. The problem is we’ve become Massman. I mean the problem is we've been warring forever. But now that the spears are a little bigger, they can take the planet out. We're taking out all the animals now. This film is about war, but way beyond the battlefield. It's war is the price we pay for the pursuit of our happiness. I mean, please would all respect this, we sit here now there, we're killing so many things on the planet so you can have fast food or sushi or whatever the shit we're doing, okay? Or a Lexus or TV or go to Harvard or, I mean, we have to, these kids that are around, they're telling us the house is on fire. That's not a metaphor. It's a reality. But we, you know, we only can look at what's in front of us, our own need. You mentioned Alinsky. I didn't go study with Alinsky, I brought a project to him. We worked together as collaborators, okay? It's, it's about doing something, not just thinking about it. What does Greta Thunberg say? She says, “Hope, when you hope for this and pray for that. And the Pope prays for peace and we ask everybody to be -- hope means nothing unless it's to act.” So, you know, we're paralyzed. We're in a, if you want to hear my point of view, we're living in a state of shock. The catastrophe has already happened. It's not gonna happen. We're living in it, but we're so close to it, we don't see it. Now, that's, you could call that a depressing thought. I call it hopeful, it's hopeful because it could make us do something, like these kids are running around almost like the kids’ Crusades, thankfully not with the Pope. But with the Earth, okay, the real mogul, and they're saying we got to do something and we can't do it. They're begging people to do something. But nobody has time; they’re on their Gizmo. We've all been operant conditioned by the mechanism of agency that we call life. So it's an extreme time, and beyond ... it’s unsayable. Now. Would you please have them bring my straight jacket now?
HADEN GUEST 52:46
On the contrary, we are once again dazzled by the insight, by the inspiration that Godfrey Reggio alone can give. So please join me in thanking Godfrey Reggio and Daniel Liebsohn.