Friday, May 4, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes

This movie is almost more of a series of paintings than an actual film. Director, Jennifer Baichwai follows photographer, Edward Burtynsky around the world. Through is pictures, Burtynsky, documents the impact humans have on nature. The movie is filled with his of mines, tainted rivers, and gigantic landfills. These images are disturbing, yet strangely beautiful at the same time.

The movie opens with one dolly shot that approaches ten minutes in length. It simply follows an aisle in a Chinese manufacturing company as the camera passes by rows and rows of laborers in this mammoth building. This set the stage for a movie of great potential. I quickly grew to realize, however, that the movie seemed to function simply as a vehicle for Burtynsky's self importance. It was almost more of a documentary about him, than it was about what he was documenting. I lost count of how many times he talked about the importance of his work. Even he mentions the irony of taking pictures of silicon strip mines providing the ore used in his film.

There were some interesting portions of the film, where the focused on specific areas. One was a computer junk yard in china Here locals dig through parts to scrap was little valuable material is still left. This was accentuated by pictures of massive piles of computer parts. One particularly powerful picture was of an elderly woman, who had survived social and governmental revolutions, only to live out her days surrounded by "E-Garbage."

There is another portion that about the urbanization of Shang-Hei, which featured another elderly woman who refused to sell her home. Now she lives in the midst of giant skyscrapers. Yet another section dealt with Burtynsky trying to gain access to photograph a coal mine, and another lengthy section about an oil tanker graveyard, and the people who dismantle them.

My favorite part of the movie, however, was about the unfathomably large Three Gorge Damn in China. Interviewed are construction workers who look at this two decade long marvel of engineering as "just another job". To give a little scope to the size of this, 13 towns had to be razed to create the 500 kilometer long reservoir. There are sequences of citizens knocking down the buildings in their own town.

There are some rather powerful themes present in this movie: The effects of man's incursion on nature- not only on the environment, but also on people themselves, all in the name of progress. There were some fascinating interviews with the people living in these conditions, and working on these jobs, but I wish there was more of it. There was far too much time dedicated to Burtynsky talking about his motivations, and footage of him setting up his shots. The movie is short, however (around 80 minutes), so it's well worth your time watching. For another movie, even better movie on similar themes, watch "Working Man's Death." This is a comparable documentary told completely from the eyes of the workers.


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