Manakamana Screen 33 articles



Manakamana Poster
  • For whatever reason, my interest in the Sensory Ethnography Lab films is inversely proportional to the amount of screen time devoted to human beings... Not that 11 empty cable cars would be an improvement here, but I might've been more enthused about, say, 11 different cable-car rides, in different locations, à la Benning's 13 Lakes (which I quite enjoyed).

  • Spray and Velez elect to use their own acquaintances, who act for the camera to varying degrees of self-awareness. There was probably no other solution available to the filmmakers – can anybody really be “natural” when they know they are being filmed? – but the strategy significantly mutes much of the fascination the film could have held for the spectator.

  • I find myself feeling a little lonely on this one, given that I consider it to be "only" a quite interesting fiction / ethnography experiment, and not The Film of the Year. Having said that, the fact that many if not most of my friends and colleagues are over the flipping moon for Manakamana doesn't trouble me in the least, although I do wonder whether its basic procedures (duration, the hard stare of fixed-camera portraiture) are being read as revelatory because of the Nepalese context alone.

  • Less about defining a cultural space or habit, Manakamana becomes about a brief space that exists in between, when people are just people, however they behave. The ethnographic ambitions of the film, then, are slight or misplaced; the real pleasure here comes from the smiles, conversations, melting ice cream, strummed sarangis, and the colorful mundanity of this seemingly uninteresting revolving trip.

  • In some ways this is cinema boiled down to its essence, a transportational experience that whisks us away to an ancient temple in the Nepalese mountains, while offering hints of exotic lived experiences for shading, although not enough to fully grasp the clipped stories of these anonymous peoples’ lives. One clear sign that this works is that those snippets end up being so tantalizingly oblique.

  • A spatial awareness exercise machine combined with exercises in real-time motion portraiture, Manakamana’s first two laps are wordless. The opening salvo’s wordlessly entrancing, a man and boy sitting in awkward silence punctuated by loud, unnerving jolts as each post is approached and passed, the ground rising and falling behind them in spectacular gradients...

  • “Manakamana” is, in important ways, different, and better [than previous Harvard SEL films], because the enforced intimacy of its premise invites precisely the sort of controlled, analytical observation—and discussion—that those films lacked... [But] there’s nothing in the movie to suggest the presence of the filmmakers, no sense of the participants’ consent to being filmed, no notion of their interactions with the filmmakers or any organizers of the production.

  • Ice cream becomes a source of tension in Journey 9, music creates an abrupt magical bubble in Journey 10, little mysteries lap around the edges - why does she call herself "deaf" when she obviously isn't in Journey 2? is the woman talking to herself in Journey 7? - and of course there's a spiritual rider, the goddess looking down ("Manakamana protect us!") on all God's creatures. All in all, ingenious.

  • Is there a place for Spray and Velez's form of cinema? I certainly hope so... but have moviegoers lost the ability to sit for two hours with an artwork that may thoroughly test their capacity for endurance? Spray and Velez implicitly ask this question. Manakamana could be understood as many things, but its urgent insistence upon rekindled patience and compassion make it a peculiar kind of structuralist essay film—and one of the most compelling in recent memory.

  • Spray and Velez’s structuralist ethnographic film, produced at Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, is a kind of anti-Leviathan, in which the viewer is constantly aware of their position in time and space: The camera never leaves the cable car, and the length of each shot corresponds both to one leg of the journey and to the length of a roll of 16-mm film.

  • Spray and Velez's film calls attention to attention, the ways our thoughts and perceptions slowly drift and return during long durations spent looking at certain subjects or familiar scenarios. Variations are minor, but significant and precisely timed—in the number or demographic of the subjects portrayed, for example, or by following a couple of shots taken from one side of the car with one taken from the other.

  • A dozen or so different segments comprise Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s immersive Manakamana, each lasting nearly 10 minutes and focusing on a single cable-car ride to or from the eponymous Nepalese temple. From this simple template arise a number of touching, borderline profound, and unflaggingly real moments...

  • Despite its simple premise, Manakamana resonates long after the final blacked-out screen, the portraits memorable for their ordinary mystery and for the filmmakers’ preservation of the privacy of their subjects, shifting the onus of attentive observation to the viewer.

  • Tryingly slow and with no dialogue for the first forty-odd minutes, many in the audience began to stream out during the screening I was at—their loss. As the film unfolds, it seamlessly builds on itself, as similar patterns of human interaction begin to emerge between the disconnected groups. Due to this, the film explodes its repetitive structure and narrow focus, becoming a radically open and invigorating documentary.

  • Upon closer inspection, and a relaxed sense of anticipation, what may feel like cinematic anathema (the terror of inertia!) reveals itself as the blooming of awareness, of self and other, through an act of forbearance. As another field report from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab... Manakamana is predicated on close inspection, embodied inquiry, defiance of genre, and an engagement with the real.

  • Filmed on 16 mm, it comprises eleven fixed-camera shots of various passengers on a newly built cable car that ascends to the Manakamana Temple in Nepal. Your company on this succession of rides ranges from devout pilgrims to garrulous young metal musicians to several goats. All prove to be as worthy of scrutiny as the gorgeous mountain scenery that’s visible over their heads and shoulders.

  • From a distance, the movie seems effortless, as if Spray and Velez had simply gone out for the day, hitched a ride on the Manakamana express and reported back with their results. Up close, it reveals a more intricate undercarriage than many a scripted feature... Yet for all its manipulations and self-imposed restrictions, “Manakamana” is expansive, intricate and surprisingly playful.

  • The camera is fixed, but the frame is lively with emotion and motion. Present-tense in the extreme, Manakamana is about the acts of seeing and hearing, with all the complexity that implies. This is cinema for people who tune into the rhythms of passing railroad tracks or find narratives in the familiar trees on their drives to and from work.

  • The film manages to track the gap between the pilgrimages that used to crawl up the mountain to the mechanical obliviousness of a cable car to the terrain: almost all the passengers are stunned as they think back to what it must have been like... to walk the entire way. In this way, the film materialises like no other I can recall what Henri Lefebvre called abstract space, the abstraction of form from nature and its spaces as built environments make even modest inroads.

  • Manakamana is not merely an experiment in durational cinema, but an experiential work—for both subjects and the viewer. Apart from the individual stories we are enabled to create in our minds and the surprising passages of suspense engendered by the limited time frame, Manakamana functions as an ecstatically physical movie. The subject and destination clearly encourage a form of meditation, but the film also heightens our senses, so that the details of the trip constantly snap us out of reverie.

  • While familiarity with Spray’s earlier work broadens the experience of watching Manakamana, in either case it is deeply engaging as we put all our senses to work to understand the world we have entered. The formal rigor and elegance of this piece make it unique in the SEL oeuvre, as does the seeming dislocation of the camera’s gaze.

  • Whenever the passing verdant landscape vanishes into ethereal cloud cover, it’s as if we’re moving between states of being. In this context, the most mundane conversation might suddenly take on a metaphysical grandeur, while every moment of silence feels fleetingly precious. You could hardly ask for a more beautiful vision of souls in transit.

  • We might say that nonfiction, at its best, shows us the world in a way we've never seen it before — usually by homing in on some peculiar facet of existence and illuminating its idiosyncrasies. But the subject of Manakamana is existence itself, in all its sprawling, endless banality. It shows us the world sitting still for 10 minutes at a time, quiet in the company of men and women and the forested vistas around them. And I've never seen anything like it.

  • Presenting Manakamana at last fall’s New York Film Festival, Spray called each episode “a whole ethnographic encounter in real time.” It might be more precise to say that this hypnotic and serene motion picture allows the viewer to experience what that thing “real time” really is.

  • ...Manakamana is more to do with the journey happening outside the box, and about our being placed inside the box with the people we’re accompanying. Which makes the film closer, in way, to Warhol’s screen tests. Or indeed, like Stagecoach. Manakamana is a travel film that’s not about the ride, but the riders. Ourselves included, of course.

  • It creates, through the aesthetic uniqueness of its vision and through the transformative power of cinema, a shared experience that did not exist before, in real life or on film. Indeed, what’s majestic about Manakamana is that by making you focus on what’s onscreen it forces you deeper within yourself. It’s the closest I’ve seen a film come to an act of genuine hypnosis.

  • The movie is being released digitally but its luxurious visual quality, with its near-tactile sense of texture and depth, owes much to it being shot on film... By focusing on such a narrow slice of Nepali life, Ms. Spray and Mr. Velez have ceded any totalizing claim on the truth and instead settled for a perfect incompleteness.

  • MANAKAMANA's rich sound design draws the viewer in to the car's cabin, projecting the sound-space of the journey into the auditorium, subsequently allowing the audience to project themselves into the cable car alongside the passengers onscreen.

  • It stands as a supreme example of anthropological cinema, applying observational rigor to cultural groups and traditions, a direct inheritor of the early experiments of Jean Rouch but aware of the much older stream that extends back to Robert Flaherty, arguably the creator of the first anthropological in-between films.

  • Manakamana is such a rich experience in part because of how ingeniously it both activates and resolves a host of apparent contradictions. Shot with a camera that is fixed (tripod-mounted to a custom-built platform) but also in constant motion, it is at once a portrait film and a landscape film, an epic in miniature, a documentary predicated on performance.

  • The film’s rigidly confining parameters paradoxically activate a heightened sense of awareness: I became increasingly attuned to small shifts in the passengers’ facial expressions and body movements, in the landscape behind them, in all the things that normally go rolling by unnoticed in all the moments of our lives. Most amusement park rides overwhelm you in sensory overload; this one brings you back to your senses.

  • Maybe this is a movie about the outer reaches of documentary form. Its seriality and intimacy thrust toward both the avant-garde and reality TV, while individual chapters suggest visual comedy or a musical. Or maybe it's about the methods by which viewers process onscreen information and how a film can teach them new algorithms in real time.

  • Though its subject matter doesn’t seem particularly fun on the surface, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana is a sort of structural game, by turns contemplative and, yes, playful. It sets hard and immovable rules in place, then explores what is cinematographically possible within those constraints.

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