Gambling, Gods and LSD

Canada/Switzerland / 2002 / 180 minutes

A filmmaker’s quest for transcendence becomes a three-hour trip across countries and cultures, between people, over time. From the scene of his childhood in Toronto, Peter Mettler sets out on a journey that includes evangelism at the airport strip, demolition in Las Vegas, tracings in the Nevada desert, chemistry and street life in Switzerland, and the coexistence of technology and divinity in contemporary India. Everywhere along the way, the same themes are found: thrill-seeking, luck, destiny, belief, expanding perception, and the craving for security in an uncertain world. Fact joins with fantasy; the search for meaning and the search for ecstasy begin to merge. An intuitive, visionary journey, and a lucid and personal portrait of our times, Gambling, Gods and LSD may change the way you look at the world.

The concept for Gambling, Gods and LSD surfaced in 1988, but it wasn’t until Picture of Light was completed that Mettler was able to devote himself fully to the project. From the beginning, the process of making the film was structured as a voyage of discovery. As Mettler describes, “It was important for the project not to depend on a script or a preconceived shooting plan. It was a more open and intuitive way of working. Such a process still requires decisions and choices, but they were made in response to the apparently random flow of events and people who crossed my path.”

Mettler’s travels for the film occurred intermittently between late 1997 and early 1999. Working alone or with a small crew, he shot film and video footage in Canada, the USA, Switzerland and India. Four themes set the conceptual guidelines for shooting: the desire to transcend, the denial of death, the illusion of safety, and our relationship to nature. These themes played a guiding role in selecting subjects, as well as suggesting how to respond to and film them. The encounters themselves created the journey’s own logic. As Mettler explains, “I wanted to let one thing lead to the next, allowing the film to make itself – so that its structure might reflect the logic of life’s unfolding.”

In a first, rough editing stage, Mettler created a 55-hour assembly culled from a larger quantity of original material. As he explains, “Nothing was ever shot twice – there were no re-takes or multiple camera angles, so the 55 hours contained a multitude of different scenes and characters. I put the material together chronologically and tried to crystallize scenes and sequences according to what the material itself suggested. The challenge was to create a structure and a story while preserving the chronological order of events without imposing too much from outside. It was important to let the material breathe.” Sound design played an important role in structuring the film, influencing the picture editing choices as much as the picture would call for a certain sound. Mettler worked with collaborators to develop these elements, including Peter Bräker, Fred Frith and DJ Dimitri de Perrot, as well as utilizing music by Jim O’Rourke, Henryk Gorecki, Tony Coe, Knut & Silvy, and Christian Fennesz.

Gambling, Gods and LSD blends documentary observations with lyrical camerawork, location sound with aural sculpture, narrative flows with non-linear associative editing. The result is an audio-visual composition whose movements challenge our preconceptions, evoking in us the wonder and awe of our daily existence. It is a mosaic of moments where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Gambling, Gods and LSD invites the viewer to actively participate in the making of meaning, so that the central theme of the film and the experience of watching it become one and the same.

“There is one great transmitter: the cosmos, the entire material world… and there are an endless number of receivers, individuals, every single human being.” – Albert Hoffmann


Gambling, Gods and LSD is grandly ambitious, yet deeply meditative. It’s intensely personal… yet profoundly universal, humanism without an ounce of pious-do-goodism.” – Juan Rodriguez, Montreal Gazette

“A fascinating three-hour exploration/autobiography/Zen meditation.” – Cameron Bailey, NOW Magazine

“One of the most remarkable features of this or any year, Gambling, Gods and LSD redefines our expectation of what one can see in a film… A work of brilliance… Mettler has placed himself in the forefront of the contemporary cinema scene.” – Marc Glassman, Festival Magazine 

Gambling, Gods and LSD plays like a meditation in the flesh, and it’s luxuriously trippy. You don’t watch it so much as sink into it. The images wash over you with the real-time rhythm of flowing water. It’s as if Mettler has gone fly-fishing in the stream of consciousness, and has been pulled under… Visionaries such as Norman McLaren, Michael Snow – and Peter Mettler – remind us that cinema can still be a revolutionary art, and that Canadians often feel most at home on its cutting edge.” – Brian D. Johnson, Macleans 

“The visionary Canadian filmmaker and cinematographer Peter Mettler, who captured the awe-inspiring beauty of the northern lights in his sublime Picture of Light, here attempts something even more ambitious and unlikely: a picture of transcendence… The most honoured and unusual Canadian non-fiction film of the year, Gambling, Gods and LSD is a monumental, meditative, mind-expanding epic that sets out to capture the human sense of wonder…. However one chooses to characterize this unclassifiable, hybrid work – as documentary, autobiography, essay, experimental film, or Zen meditation – Gambling, Gods and LSD is an audacious and extraordinary cinematic attempt to kick open the doors of perception.” – Pacific Cinematheque

“Brilliant… like a sensual dream you’d rather not wake up from, but when you do, Mettler’s visions, affectations and insights remain firmly in your mind.” – William MacGillvray, Vancouver International Film Festival

Gambling, Gods and LSD becomes a sort of divine sacrament, melting the viewer’s synapses with a mesmerizing array of sights, sounds and genuinely profound insights. At three hours, Gambling, Gods and LSD is demanding, but it ranks with the most visionary work of Chris Marker and Joris Ivens.” – Jason Anderson, Eye Magazine

“An extended mediation on the extent humans will go to reach transcendent states… Gambling, Gods and LSD weaves a hypnotic spell of its own.” – Ken Eisner, Georgia Straight

“Mettler dissolves the boundary between filmmaker and film viewer, using mobile recording devices to free a civilization that has been enslaved by technology’s shackles. In the process, he does one of the most humane things any filmmaker can: he opens his mind and lets you inside.” – Mark Peranson, Cinemascope

“In Gambling, Gods and LSD voices, experiences, encounters arise and dissolve like a dream of life remembered on film, a stream of consciousness linked by jet vapour trails, radio receivers and the hovering eye of the camera. Banality and profundity intermingle… As a generation, we need such filmic hymns to the complexity of living. We need spaces to wonder.” – Emma Davie, Dox Magazine

Gambling, Gods and LSD is a journey to the four corners of the world but also into the most profound recesses of the human spirit… The film forms a living, breathing organism in which every part relates to the other. Things literally dissolve into other things: a leaf-dappled river into blips on a radar screen, a waterfall into a rave… In a poignant moment, an off-screen voice asks Mettler what the film means, and Mettler’s answer is swallowed up by the raging chatter of insects. Ultimately, of course, the film speaks, vividly and articulately, for itself.” – Jason McBride, Cinemascope

Gambling, Gods and LSD is a frequently mesmerizing three-hour diary-documentary about people’s seemingly universal struggle to break on through to the other side. Beautifully rendered and enigmatically elliptical… the movie works most effectively as a form of cinematic meditation. In encouraging a kind of trancelike submission to its hypnotic sounds and images, GGLSD successfully points to precisely the kind of experience it pursues. Time was, they’d call this a head movie.” – Geoff Pevere, The Toronto Star

“There are certain things fiction movies cannot ever hope to reproduce, because they are things that must spring spontaneously from unscripted experience… To see ourselves reflected in all our own gloriously blemished individualism – this is what makes documentary so essential today, and why this program compels such attention even when surrounded by such intense fictional competition. These days, even a little truth goes a long way.” – Geoff Pevere, The Toronto Star

Gambling, Gods and LSD is an indelible visceral experience. First and foremost, many of the images in Gambling, Gods and LSD are absolutely breathtaking…. Furthermore, Mettler enhances his collage of images with an intricately layered soundtrack of music… In addition, there’s the smart and wonderful play of rhythm, swaying whimsically from the serene to the fast and furious… And finally, there’s the complexity of the many aural and visual puns strewn across the film. Astonishingly, Gambling, Gods and LSD feels no longer than the average length feature. In fact, because of the multiplicity of layers on which it is structured, Gambling, Gods and LSD is one of those films that deserves – no requires – not one but several viewings, each bound to provide drastically new and different insights.” – Stephen Lan, Take One

“There were moments when I realized that I’d fallen into Gambling, Gods and LSD as though through the looking-glass, where I was lost in a particular image or sequence, full of curiosity but also strangely beyond it. Not ‘looking for something’, as Mettler narrates, but rather ‘a part of what you’re looking at’… Mettler manages to weave a fascinating tapestry out of wildly diverse threads of human existence. It is precisely the great scope of the journey that gives it its resonance, as slowly the feeling is engendered in the viewer of belonging to this wacky race of creatures, which in turn belongs to Nature as a whole.” – Jack Blum, Point of View Magazine

“Mettler has tuned himself to the world. His camera is like a musical instrument. Always receptive to the unexpected, he follows invisible currents to eavesdrop on the miracles of daily life and rediscovers wonder.” – Peter Weber

Gambling, Gods and LSD is Koyaanisqatsi with content.” – Greg Klymkiw, Canadian Film Center

“Like ingesting Christ in Communion or dropping that first hit of LSD, this movie may change the very essence of your being.” – The McGill Tribune

“An exploration of transcendence… a three hour trip connecting countries, cultures, people and times… An extraordinary and challenging look at the world. Mettler has constructed not only a mind trip, but a trip for the mind." – Stacey Donen, TIFF

Gambling, Gods and LSD is emblematic of a new dimension in documentary cinema… An immaculate soundtrack. The images at times hallucinatory. And at the end of the journey what endures is a sense of universal human connection.” – Antoine Duplan, L’Hebdo

“By the grace of filmmaking, the genius of association, we are in a constant flux between the trivial and sublime, the profound and the futile. A film trip. A world film.” – Les Inrockuptibles

Gambling, Gods and LSD is able to open the eyes of the viewer to see something new... It reveals Mettler to be a master not only in creation, but even more so, in perception itself.” – Valentin Rabitsch, Aargauer Zeitung

Gambling, Gods and LSD is a three hour associative film fresco by Peter Mettler… Those who have seen the film speak about it with a glow in their eyes. It is one of those rare works of experimentation which seems to entrance critics and audiences alike.” – Tobi Muller, Tages-Anzeiger

“In Gambling, Gods and LSD wilderness and industry, Jesus worship and technoraves are not left as polar opposites. As we approach the end of the film we realize everything has to do with everything else… Peter Mettler is a fine-tuned sensor, an intellectual ready to wonder like a child.” – Andre Grieder, Facts

Excerpt #1: “13th Floor”

Excerpt #2: “Time in Heaven”

Excerpt #3: “Machinery Linked in Harmony”

Excerpt #4: “Horizontally Connected”

Excerpt #5: “The World As It Really Is”

Excerpt #6: “Laughter Heaven”




A maximage / Grimthorpe / Alliance Atlantis production

Writing, Directing, Cinematography: Peter Mettler
Editing: Peter Mettler, Roland Schlimme
Original music: Fred Frith, Peter Bräker and Dimitri de Perrot
Additional Music: Jim O'Rourke, Third Eye Foundation, Christian Fennesz, Knut & Silvy, Tony Coe, Henryk Gorecki, Martin Schütz
Executive Producers: Andreas Züst, Atom Egoyan, Peter Mettler
Produced by: Cornelia Seitler of maximage GmbH, Zurich, and Alexandra Rockingham Gill and Ingrid Veninger of Grimthorpe Film Inc., Toronto. With the participation of Alliance Atlantis.

Appearances in the film include: Killarney Provincial Park, Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship Church, Dant'e Amore of Paradise Electro Stimulations, Harrah's Casino Las Vegas, Eva Steil, The Aladdin Hotel, Jose Alves, The Tashi Gomang Stupa, Mountain Passes of Nufenen, Albula, Grimsel and Furka, Street Parade, Zürich, Christoph Richter, ETH Biochemistry Lab, Zürich, Christine Koch and Roger Greminger, Albert Hofmann, Rani Mukherje and Govinda, Kodanda Rama Temple, Hampi, Brahmins celebrating Arattu at the Trivundrum Beach, Ajith Kumar and Jairo, Firedance, Pilgrims at Dharmasthala, Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma), The Bombay Laughing Club


Genie Award – Best Documentary, Academy of Canadian Cinema
Grand Prix and Prix du Publique, Visions du Réel
Best Feature Documentary, Vancouver International Festival
Best Documentary, Festival du cinema nouveau
Best Documentary, Duisburger Filmwoche
Top Twenty Canadian Films, Toronto International Film Festival
Best Documentary (Runner-Up), FIPRESCI
Award for Excellence in the Arts, Swiss Ministry of Culture
Nominated for Best Documentary, Swiss Film Prize
One of the Year’s Best Films, Film Comment

Worldwide theatrical release and television broadcast.


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