Powaqqatsi Presentation


Powaqqatsi, or Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation, is the 1988 sequel to the 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, by Godfrey Reggio and Phillip Glass(Our February selection. It is the second film in the trilogy.


As before, the filmmakers created a movie with no dialogue, no narration.  It is simply a marriage of beautiful, powerful cinematography and musical composition.


(Koyanisqatsi was about the Northern Hemisphere:  hyperkinetic and industrial).  Powaqqatsi is … About the Southern Hemisphere (cultures of orality, a “handmade” living … of tradition)


From Hopi mythology  “Powaqa is a black magician, an entity that eats the life of another person .. to advance [its] own life… operates through seduction, through allurement”

Qatsi—a way of life

Powaqqatsi: a way of life that consumes another way of life to advance itself.


Reggio’s viewpoint, expressed in the film, “This world is a mysterious unity held together through the web of diversity”  But, he is concerned, “Our world is getting consumed by the norms of progress and development.”


I believe he is not, so much, presenting a point of view that vilifies industrialization, but expressing concern that it runs the risk of destroying diverse ways of life.


But, in any event, he encourages you to have your own experience, to develop you own viewpoint.


There are numerous scenes of such beauty and fascination that I am tempted to stop and replay them over and over.  What holds me back is the knowledge that there are always more coming,  right to the end.


I encourage you, as you observe the locations, to imagine what it might be like to live in those places, with those lifestyles, with the beauty, the simplicity, the ancient ways, or the poverty.  Notice the connection between some of the cultures’ ceremony-art-dance, and the work they do.


The Spiritual/Positive Psychology principles presented include:  Perspective—see all the different lifestyles depicted

social intelligence,-- look at some of the traditions represented

humility,-- humility in the diversity of values that caution us to avoid believing there is only one best way

appreciation of beauty--- in the scenic world,.

.. and transcendence, as we appreciate the inspiration in this work


Locations we will travel through include






Hong Kong



& inexplicably in this “southern hemisphere” work, Berlin and France


Opening scene: Open pit goldmine in northern Brazil, 15,000(Glass; “40,000”-Reggio  men carrying dirt (Serra Pelada") half kilometer deep (Glass; 60 stories, Reggio)..Man hit on head with rock.[slow motion… also intercut with a sort of visual overture


As we leave that scene, with it’s frentic score, the music shifts to a piece called “Anthem”, returns in several variations throughout the film.  You may find it familiar, as it was used in The Truman Show and several film trailers, including Dead Man Walking.





This film sits on my short list, perhaps at the top, of my favorite works of art.



Powaqqatsi, or Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation, is the 1988 sequel to the experimental 1982 documentary film Koyaanisqatsi, by Godfrey Reggio. It is the second film in the trilogy.

Powaqqatsi is a Hopi word meaning "parasitic way of life" or "life in transition". While Koyaanisqatsi focused on modern life in industrial countries, Powaqqatsi, which similarly has no dialogue, focuses more on the conflict in third world countries between traditional ways of life and the new ways of life introduced with industrialization. As with Koyaanisqatsi and the third and final part of the 'Qatsi' trilogy, Naqoyqatsi, the film is strongly related to its soundtrack, written by Philip Glass. Here, human voices (especially children's and mainly from South America and Africa) appear more than in Koyaanisqatsi, in harmony with the film's message and images.

In the beginning chapter, "Serra Pelada", men from Serra Pelada (a gold mine in Brazil) are seen carrying bags of dirt up to a destination. In the middle of the chapter, various shots outside of Serra Pelada are shown. Near the end of the chapter, a few men are carrying another man who was struck by a falling rock (mentioned in the "Impact of progress" feature on the DVD) uphill along a procession of workers who are carrying dirt filled sacks. After that, several discordant layered exposures of the dirt carriers are shown. The scene cross fades to show the image of a head, with multiple exposures of the same head rapidly rotating and layered upon to give a manifold appearance. This is an apparent allusion to Janus, the god of beginnings, endings and transitions, keeping with the film's central themes of progress and change. After that, the film's title is shown in red.



The juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern in Powaqqatsi

In Anthem: Part 1, the sun rises up above an African village. Later, a man raises a sail for a boat. The next chapter, That Place, starts zooming out from a waterfall. Children can be heard laughing. Villages are shown as well as children and upside down water reflections. Anthem: Part 2 has various shots of villages and islands shown.

Mosque and Temple shows various natural shots as well as religious scenes. Some of these scenes are a transparent inside a church with someone walking by, a black man praying, a monk sitting while a bird flies off his stick, the same monk walking by the river, a bird flying by a sunset, more children (similar to the final scene in "That Place"), crows flying above a river, two men rowing their boat in that river, a woman praying in the Ganges River, two men doing yoga, another monk, and a temple in Nepal.



Composer Phillip Glass more deeply involved from the beginning, traveling to the locations, sometimes with Reggio, sometimes not.


conflict in third world countries between traditional ways of life and the new ways of life introduced with industrialization


more human voices on soundtrack



“Janus”/”Titles, Anthem 1 (Heard in Truman Show, Dead Man Walking, numerous film trailers

Sun rising on African village

Women carrying baskets on head

Boat (s)

(Other carrying)

Various scenes… villages, farms


That Place

Waterfall (stream through house, for cooling) with children’s voices

Woman stepping elegantly into walled enclave

Milling grains

Reflected water street scene, Tree with rising heat distortion

Grain carriers

Running boys, Quiet (sullen?) children


Anthem Part 2

Aerial/Village/Farm/Boats/Water village/Farming/tools

People Doing work/ Washing/Market


Mosques and Temple


Religious scenes



Anthem 3

Urban scenes

Dancing/ritual/Color! (mostly slow motion) work as dance/ritual


Passing  Coal train

Urban Aerial


Commmerical Dream sequence

Apartment complexes

Crowd scenes, Police  or military


World percussion piece


Urban scenes (Some reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire)


Anticipatory/Horn Music


Urban/Carrion Birds/Mass transport

Mass washing village



Urgent Music

Feet, urban


Repeats numerous urban/industrial themes



Arabic Singer

Junk Car


Ghostly Images

Boy emerges from dust by road





Images photographed as they happened; only one set up: boy walking down road in Luxor with truck passing by, stirring up dust (Actually occurred naturally, but equipment not ready, so boy was asked to wait for next truck.


Don’t need to have seen Koyaanisqatsi

This is a reminder that next Friday’s Unity Spiritual Movies showing will be “Powaqqatsi“(Friday, August 13 Unity Christ Church, 33 N. Skinker Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63105.  Admission is free, although donations are accepted.  As usual, we will start at 7:00 with a brief introduction and follow with an optional group conversation.)

Powaqqatsi is the follow-up to Koyaanisqatsi, which was our selection in February .  As before, the filmmakers created a movie with no dialogue, no narration.  It is simply a marriage of beautiful, powerful cinematography and musical composition.  Again, I believe, the viewer has an unusual opportunity to create an experience of unconscious connection to the people and our world through the mind and heart. It can create a direct experience of beauty and emotion.  (There are no plots, themes or characters established or carried over from the previous movie; you won’t be at a disadvantage starting with the second movie in the sequence)


The title comes from the Hopi language, translated as "life in transformation”. Powaqqatsi is more international in flavor, and more focused on people in their environments rather than other structures of nature or human construction. We see people at work, in celebration or in repose.

It was released in 1988, again created in collaboration between Director Godfrey Reggio and music composer Philip Glass.


This film sits on my short list, perhaps at the top, of my favorite works of art.

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