Capturing Trance Rituals: Vincent Moon: Filmmaker / Explorer

Vincent Moon is an independent French filmmaker and sound explorer. After cutting his teeth shooting short films and music videos for the likes of The National, R.E.M, Arcade Fire and Sigur Rós, Vincent packed his camera in a rucksack and hit road in 2008, travelling across five continents in a quest for sounds from stadium rock to rare shamanic rituals, from experimenting in electronics to accapella village songs.

A modern day Alan Lomax, these experimental ethnography films are released for free through his nomadic label Petites Planètes, under a Creative Commons license. His latest project HÍBRIDOS, in partnership with photographer, writer and director Priscilla Telmon, is a transmedia ethnographic study of current day religious cults in Brazil, mixing tradition and modernity.

We spoke to Vincent about his experiences of capturing these remarkable trance rituals on film. Included are films that Vincent has produced featuring such rituals. To best experience their spine tingling intensity, we suggest using headphones when viewing.

Interviewed by Marcus Lawry.


TT: Tell us about your decision to pack your camera and hit the road. Initially, what did you set out to achieve?

VM: It was almost an over-night decision. Following an instinct, a need to break from the comfort of a life in-between Paris and New York, involved in music (rock, pop) that I was less and less attracted towards. All this mixed with the feeling that there was much, much more to explore on those two fronts that are sounds and images. That there was something deeper to encounter along those roads, less linked to a creative industry that I couldn't stand, more linked to something mysterious, away from marketing tools, away from a very narrow idea of music performance.

But all this I would encounter later on, by accident. That quest had also started ten years before in my mind, when the new technologies arriving were suddenly opening the door to a new type of nomadic adventure; very connected to the web and allowing cinema making in a very simple, extremely independent way.


TT: Has your vision changed?

VM: All of my visions have changed; the vision of the future of society, the vision of what's the limit to cinema, to music. And it keeps changing.


TT: Many won't be familiar with the occurrence of trances in religious ceremonies. Can you explain a little about how they occur, what they entail?

VM: Very difficult to describe this in a few words, and even thousands of pages would not do justice to something which 'escape' for the most. Trance is the new big topic for our society, especially the creative part of the society. We have been so much devoured by the age of information that anything linked to the 'invisible' fascinates, and it's only the beginning.


TT: Tell us about your first experience of observing a religious trance?

VM: It was a night in Cairo, a friend took me to a place where, he said, women were doing something forbidden by the society. It was a 'Zar', a trance healing ritual, where two women would put in trance another one and heal her, singing the name of Allah, drumming and chanting all night long. I was so moved by the experience (and by this simple factor that being a spectator there was not making sense) that I asked them to heal me the next week. I tried to make a film on this 'experimental ethnography' trance experience. 


TT: What is the most unique experience of this sort of ceremony you have encountered?

VM: I have been travelling with my wife for a year around Brazil in quest of such forms of rituals, of ceremonies linking to the invisible. Everywhere around the country we encountered very unique experiences, very new forms of rituals also. The last one I was involved in, 2 weeks ago, was a mix of Ayahuasca drinking with 150 people, Umbanda (an afro-Brazilian cult who keep evolving, based both on Candomblé and Kardecism) related entities that people incorporate, live music with a band playing a mix of Indian mantras, Shipibo healing songs, Maria Bethânia songs, all this occurring over 5 hours in a massive chaotic transcendental experience. This is the most 'avant-garde' rock concert I have ever been to.


TT: Have there been times that your presence filming at these ceremonies has caused any negative reactions or incidents?

VM: No, I don't recall anything like that. As I tend to also participate in all those rituals, as much as possible, if not with the knowledge of the culture, at least with my entire body. Usually entities (people incorporating spirits) have been extremely friendly to us; they don't seem to mind the camera at all. My work these past years has been researching on the integration of the camera into my own body as much as possible, linking to the new uses of technologies mixed with plants used for expansions of consciousness.


TT: Do you personally believe that people are interacting with spirits or their deities during trances, or are they overcome by the intensity of the atmosphere at the ceremonies?

VM: Of course I believe. To make such researches and bringing along the old anthropological point of view would not make sense. Those barriers are exploding nowadays and Brazil is definitely the land of the re-creation of new forms of identity - in between various levels of reality. As I have been working myself in such directions, I have started to incorporate spirits on a few occasions, but once more words can't explain it all, and actually, words should not try. A new language is needed, we are working towards it.


TT: Experiencing these incredible ceremonies has affected your outlook on religion, on spirituality?

VM: Absolutely. It makes my life richer, way richer and more complex, interacting with other levels of reality. This comeback of spirituality into our libertarian-material-globalized world is a very important thing. In the end it's a very humbling process; understanding the lack of humility and the super-ego society we live in as the worst dangers for our planet.


TT: Tell us about your current project Híbridos, os espíritos do Brasil.

VM: It's a documentary researching spirituality in Brazil. But we wanted to do it as an experience researching as well on the possibilities of cinema (what's an image nowadays? how do we relate to it, how do we 'incorporate' it in our understanding of the world?) by diving deep into the various cults around the country - we (Priscilla Telmon and myself) think Brazil as the land of experiences for new forms of humankind.

The final project should be released in a year or so, a collection of 60 short films on rituals, a 2 hours long documentary reconstructing the geographies of Brazil on some levels, an exhibition/installation project for museums and galleries, discs, photobooks and more... You can follow the project here and on Facebook


Below is a selection of Vincent’s films capturing trance rituals across the world. We suggest listening through headphones to truly experience the building intensity of each ritual.

Sufism in Chechnya

Len Dong ritual in Hanoi

Ayahuasca ritual in Peru

Umbanda ritual in Brazil


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