POWAQQATSI's overall focus is on natives of the Third World -- the emerging, land-based cultures of Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America -- and how they express themselves through work and traditions. What it has to say about these cultures is an eyeful and then some, sculpted to allow for varied interpretations.
Where KOYAANISQATSI dealt with the imbalance between nature and modern society, POWAQQATSI is a celebration of the human-scale endeavor the craftsmanship, spiritual worship, labor and creativity that defines a particular culture. It's also a celebration of rareness -- the delicate beauty in the eyes of an Indian child, the richness of a tapestry woven in Kathmandu -- and yet an observation of how these societies move to a universal drumbeat.
POWAQQATSI is also about contrasting ways of life, and in part how the lure of mechanization and technology and the growth of mega-cities are having a negative effect on small-scale cultures.
The title POWAQQATSI is a Hopi Indian conjunctive -- the word Powaqa, I which refers to a negative sorcerer who lives at the expense of others, and Qatsi --i.e., life.
Several of "POWAQQATSI's" images point to a certain lethargy affecting its city dwellers. They could be the same faces we saw in the smaller villages but they seem numbed; their eyes reflect caution, uncertainty.
And yet POWAQQATSI, says Reggio, is not a film about what should or shouldn't be. "It's an impression, an examination of how life is changing", he explains. "That's all it is. There is good and there is bad. What we sought to capture is our unanimity as a global culture. Most of us tend to forget about this, caught up as we are in our separate trajectories. It was fascinating to blend these different existences together in one film."
To be certain, POWAQQATSI is a record of diversity and transformation, of cultures dying and prospering, of industry for its own sake and the fruits of individual labor, presented as an integrated human symphony -- and with Philip Glass' score providing the counterpart, performed with native, classical and electronic instruments, its tribal rhythms fused by a single majesterial theme.