On Devotional Cinema

By Nathaniel Dorsky


In all the various moods and styles through which relative time has manifested, great artists have always expressed nowness. Standing behind the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris and contemplating its grace and geometry, the delicate traceries of its rose windows, and the functional integrity of its buttresses and spires, one experiences the timeless splendour of pure nowness. Pure nowness transcends the passage of time.

For a film to have a devotional quality both absolute and relative time must be active and present – not only present but functioning simultaneously and invigorating one another. Transformative film rests in the present and respects the delicate details of its own unfolding. How is this small miracle achieved? How do we manifest nowness in the ongoing context of the relative? It is not unlike having a heartfelt discussion with a friend. You hear what your friend says, and you respond from a place you may never have responded from before. You hear your friend again, you wait a second, and there’s an actual moment of connection, a moment of genuine exploration that touches upon things never quite touched on before. That’s when heart, intelligence, instinct, and awareness all come together. Reality opens and responds to itself.

This is extracted from Devotional Cinema, by Nathaniel Dorsky (Tuumba Press, 2003). It is a 40 page essay but it is one of the most remarkable, imaginative and affecting documents on cinema I have yet read, standing alongside Bresson’s Notes and Tarkovsky’s Sculpting in Time. Like them it speaks of the moving image and its profound interaction with the miracle of life and the mystery of the world. The insights in its pages should speak to anyone engaged fully with the act of being and raise all aspirations in one’s own creative practice. A beautiful and essential piece of writing, thinking and feeling. – Gareth Evans

Dorsky’s own films are distributed in the US by Canyon (www.canyoncinema.com) and in Europe by Lightcone (www.lightcone.org).

Image by Tereza Stehlíková.