1982 American experimental film directed by Godfrey Reggio with music composed by Philip Glass and cinematography by Ron Fricke.
In 1972, Godfrey Reggio, of the Institute for Regional Education (IRE), was working on a media campaign in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The campaign involved invasions of privacy and the use of technology to control behavior. Instead of making public service announcements, which Reggio felt “had no visibility,” advertising spots were purchased for television, radio, newspapers, and billboards. Over thirty billboards were used for the campaign, and one design featured a close-up of the human eye, which Reggio described as a “horrifying image.” To produce the television commercials the IRE hired cinematographer Ron Fricke, who worked on the project for two years. The television advertisements aired during prime time programming and became so popular that viewers would call the television stations to learn when the next advertisement would be aired. Godfrey described the two-year campaign as “extraordinarily successful,” and as a result, Ritalin (methylphenidate) was eliminated as a behavior-modifying drug in many New Mexico school districts. But after the campaign ended, the ACLU eventually withdrew its sponsorship, and the IRE unsuccessfully attempted to raise millions of dollars at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. The institute only had $40,000 left in their budget, and Reggio was unsure how to use the small amount of funds. Fricke insisted to Reggio that the money could be used to produce a film, which led to the production of Koyaanisqatsi.
The film’s soundtrack by Philip Glass was released in 1983, after the release of the film. Even though the amount of music in the film was almost as long as the film itself, the soundtrack release was only 46 minutes long and featured only selections from the film’s pieces. In 1998, Glass rerecorded the album through Nonesuch Records with a length of 73 minutes, 21 seconds. The rerecording of the album featured two additional tracks from the film, as well as extended versions of previous tracks from the original album. The album was released as a Philip Glass album titled Koyaanisqatsi, rather than a soundtrack to the film. The music has become so popular that the Philip Glass Ensemble has toured the world, playing the music for Koyaanisqatsi live in front of the movie screen.