When one watches “Forest of Bliss” for the first time, they’re likely to encounter what has often been described as a sensual and intellectual surprise. This film, which depicts a day in the life of the city of Varanasi, largely focusing on ritual and religion, provides a synesthetic viewing experience which comprises of sights and sounds of the city – but no dialogue, commentary or narration whatsoever. No other film within the contemporary anthropological world has generated the resonance and debate that “Forest of Bliss” has. The response at that time was overwhelming; the academic debate has at large revitalized the discipline of visual anthropology, and the film itself has been essentially a paradigm shift in ethnographic filmmaking and has inspired numerous filmmakers across genres and disciplines. It has been thirty years since Gardner’s masterpiece was released and it is our conviction that the film has lost nothing of its aesthetic brilliance or intellectual rigor. On the contrary, considering this work under the light of our lengthy and in-depth professional experience in ethnographic film, we maintain that only now we can properly evaluate and acknowledge the immense influence that this film has had on the history of ethnographic film, the theory of visual anthropology and documentary filmmaking ever since.
Robert Gardner was the director of the Film Study Center at Harvard University from 1957 to 1997. He is one of the most internationally renowned filmmakers and authors whose works have entered the permanent canon of non-fiction filmmaking. Some of his most prominent films are: “The Hunters” (1957), “Dead Birds” (1963), “Rivers of Sand” (1974) and “Forest of Bliss” (1985).