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Pacho Velez is an affiliate of Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab, a fellow at the Harvard Film Study Center, and a visiting professor at Bard College. His films include Occupation (2002), Orphans of Mathare (2004) and Bastards of Utopia (2010).
This new feature from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab offers immersive access to an ancient journey now taken in a modern cable car, as viewers ride along in real-time with pilgrims and tourists bound for Nepal’s Manakamana temple.
Those familiar with earlier Lab features Sweetgrass and Leviathan (the latter presented by Matt Porterfield within MFF 2013) will have some frame of reference for this singular viewing experience. The lab’s mission statement states as a goal “encourag[ing] attention to the many dimensions of the world, both animate and inanimate, that may only with difficulty, if it all, be rendered with propositional prose.” In practice, this means not only transporting viewers to a corner of the world we may never otherwise see, but also finding an audio-visual style befitting each unique setting. Thus, in Sweetgrass Montana shepherds were presented in a quiet, pastoral mode, whereas Leviathan transmitted the visceral chaos of a modern fishing vessel with tiny digital cameras battered by the elements.
Here, then, we adjust to not just another setting, but also another pace. Shot on Super 16mm film from a fixed vantage point, Manakamana challenges us to recalibrate our attention span so that we may luxuriate in rides back and forth along the valleys of Trisuli, observing both the stunning vistas in every direction and the quiet and sometimes awkward moments shared by those visiting Manakamana—couples, parents and children, friends, metalheads, animals. The film thus offers a study not just of a time and place, but also a portrait of how everyday people react when faced with the sustained eye of a camera. For patient cinephiles hungry to experience something new, it’s an edifying and meditative, not to mention unforgettable, ride. (Eric Allen Hatch)