Visitors is a serious documentary experience

We speak to experimental documentary filmmaker Godfrey Reggio about his latest film Visitors and his relationship with Philip Glass and the PHI Centre.


Godfrey Reggio’s films can’t really be sorted into existing categories. Reggio, an artist and activist who spent 14 years as a Christian Brother (a Catholic Monk), has a very unique perspective when it comes to filmmaking. Through astonishing images paired with the music of Philip Glass, Reggio listens to the world and attempts to reflect what it’s telling him.

visitors posterMost notably, his Qatsi trilogy — 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, 1988’s Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation and 2002’s Naqoyqatsi: Life as War — reflects on our obsession with technological advancement, doing so as a sensory experience. In his latest film Visitors, Reggio continues to examine our relationship with technology through his cinematic poetry.

“Technology has become the environment of life,” says Reggio. “It is a new host of life and because we’re so human and animal, we become the environments we live in. We become what we see, touch, taste, smell. It’s not so much a judgment, I’m not here to be a judge, I’m here to observe and to feel and this is what I feel. So technology, anything that I could have said about the divines in the past, I can say about technology now. It is the host of life and we’re on for the ride. Its truth becomes the truth. And that’s why I used that quote from Nietzsche, ‘We have art so as not to perish from the truth.’

Godfrey Reggio
Godfrey Reggio

“The technological world, our behaviour, the way we live, the routines we do without question, inform the content of our minds. So this is what I’m trying to — not tell people about — but create a vehicle, for me a cinematic poem, that can — it’s not a logical event, it’s not something linear, not something aimed at the mind as much as the solar plexus. So it’s an experience, it’s to affect the audience, to inflict them as it were, to make an impression, to watermark them. And to engage within all of us those aesthetic triplets that reside within all of us: sensation, emotion, perception. So the film is not aimed at the head, it’s aimed at the solar plexus. It’s an autodidactic form to help us see the world, hear the world in which we live in.”

The film is very slow paced, including sequences where you stare into the eyes of a stranger for several minutes, watching them emote and change expressions. You really can’t approach it like your typical cinematic experience, waiting for a story to be told, or some kind of message to be relayed.

“What I suggest, like a traveller, you kind of take in the sights and let them talk to you,” says Reggio. “That’s what you do when one travels or walks in nature. You’re not trying to figure out everything as you go, hopefully. If you go into the movie looking for what it means, you’ll miss the entire experience.”

visitors2Each of Reggio’s films have been scored by American composer Philip Glass, who has worked with an impressive list of artists from Ginsberg to Woody Allen to David Bowie, and is considered one of the most influential composers of the late 20th century. When I asked Reggio about their relationship, I was surprised to find out that Glass wanted nothing to do with him at first. “He had no interest in cinema at all. He had just become well-known in the avant-garde world for the first performances of Einstein on the Beach, and he was back to driving a taxi cab. He was pursuing his own world, but I felt that there could be a mutual participation in the world that both of us were in, trying to create languages. And finally, to make a long story short, two [mutual] friends prevailed on him.

“What makes me keep going back to Philip is that he’s willing, each time, to consider leaping and hoping his net appears. In other words, I’m asking him to not repeat what he’s done in the past but to create something entirely unique for this film.”

Visitors took 13 years to complete from the initial thought to its final cut, mostly due to investment delays. Montreal’s PHI Centre came on board as producers almost a decade into the film’s development, allowing for it to finally be made. “Without their stellar participation, this would never have come to pass so I can only feel  most fortunate for their participation,” says Reggio. “The PHI Centre is a window to the universe. The facility it has, the technology that’s present that can be used to create something that offers something to people is extraordinary. It gets high kudos from me.” ■

Visitors opens Friday, Jan. 31

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