SXSW 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Echoes of the Invisible can be described, however flippantly, as Koyaanisqatsi with significantly more talking. Directed by Steve Elkins, it’s an anthology documentary featuring a blind runner who thrives on hardship, a photographer who captures the earth’s oldest living organisms (no, Larry King isn’t included), and a journalist who decides to retrace the migration patterns of the original humans. Each of these threads is bound together by cosmic nostalgia and secular revelation.
I say that because the scope of the movie is fairly grand. I mean, we almost encroach onto the meaning of life territory. But it comes across as more spiritual than scientific. It’s not trying to get to the bottom of anything, but, instead, to get back to something. Maybe it’s because I just reviewed Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time, but Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock kept coming to mind: “we are stardust, we are golden, we are billion-year-old carbon, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
The movie’s almost a plea to slow down, look around, and be humbled by the enormity of space and time. For the last three hundred years or so, there’s been a newfound reverence for the individual and scientific progress, and it’s worked out pretty well. But maybe there was something in the old world that was lost, and that’s what the movie is trying to get at.
“…an anthology documentary featuring a blind runner…a photographer…and a journalist…bound together by cosmic nostalgia…”
All of this may sound a little romantic, but you don’t have to engage with the movie on that level. There is a separate, more inviting entry point: struggle and patience. Look at Al Arnold, the runner, who purposefully takes up a challenge with no tangible, immediate reward, purely for the sake of exposing himself to pain and overcoming it. What he gained is known only to him, but he kept doing it, so it must have been worthwhile.
You see the same theme in the subjects of Rachel Sussman, the photographer, as the oldest living organisms on earth have taken thousands of years and just as many beatings, presumably, to become as resilient as they are. For Paul Salopek, retracing the steps of our ancient ancestors on foot certainly requires struggle and patience, but going by his testimony of the many people he met along the way, he didn’t need to complete his journey for the rewards to kick in.
It doesn’t take a genius to know that you’re missing out on life if your head is constantly craned downward, your attention span scattered across fifty different tasks, all of which you’re ineptly accomplishing. There’s a lot to see and not a lot of time to see it, as humans are not as lucky as 80,000-year-old aspen trees. When it comes to stopping to smell the roses, Echoes of the Invisible has to be one of the better attempts at Smell-O-Vision.
Echoes of the Invisible was scheduled to screen at the 2020 SXSW Film Festival.