The winner of several major awards in its native Canada, "Scared Sacred" is an ambitious and imaginative film which makes a distinctive contribution to the revival of the cinematic documentary. Eschewing fashionable cynicism, it follows the director on a pilgrimage to 'ground zero sites around the world' - Bhopal, Pnomh Penh, Kabul, New York, Hiroshima and more - to examine the efforts of local people to build something positive from their experiences. Though there is anger here - toward warmongers and terrorists and self-interested corporations - the film's focus is on those who have managed to work through their anger and create something more productive, seeking peaceful solutions to the suffering they see around them.
Finding an angle on hope
It is a considerable challenge for any film maker to draw so strongly on audience emotions and get away with it. Many viewers will find "Scared Sacred" unattractively sentimental and frustratingly pacifistic in the face of real horror. This is the kind of film which can only give up its secrets to those who are already willing to listen; and, as such, one has to question how effective its message can be. As a record of a personal journey, however, it has wider appeal. Refreshingly, director Ripper elects not to appear on camera for most of the film, though his narration is omnipresent. This has the effect of involving the audience more closely with his experiences; there is no barrier of celebrity presenter, no intervening ego. Ripper is straightforward and personable, comfortable admitting that there are risks he's not prepared to take, and the film is no poorer for that. Further, the circular nature of his personal journey strengthens the film's investigation of religious perspectives, reflecting on his upbringing in the Ba'hai faith and providing copious illustration of religious rituals from around the world. Religion is often observed to be a positive influence, but the film is never heavy-handed about it, nor does it require audience members to take a particular religious standpoint.
From an artistic standpoint, "Scared Sacred" is remarkable. Operating with minimal crew and equipment, sometimes carrying the only camera himself, Ripper has collected some startlingly beautiful and evocative images which serve both to illuminate disaster scenes and to demonstrate that disaster is not the only thing to be found in those places. First class editing and adventurous cutting techniques contribute to a record which is always visually intriguing. Furthermore, very few of the images included could be considered extraneous; landscapes and scenes of day to day life help to build a strong sense of place, providing a solid background against which the film's several interviews can be conducted. In these interviews, a range of very different people talk about their reactions to past trauma, explaining its effects on how they latterly conduct their lives. There is often a real sense of continuing danger, as when the film crew are shot at on the Israeli-Palestinian border; yet this does not preclude humour, as when a Cambodian mine-clearer cheerfully taps on an explosive device to explain how it can be handled safely.
"Scared Sacred" was created in the hope of helping people find meaning in a climate of fear. Though it doesn't provide answers for everyone, it is a fine demonstration of the philosophical potential of film, and a fascinating piece of cinema.