Local opening date 8/24/2007
Reviewed by Martha K. Baker
This Canadian documentary is artist-driven, the artist being Edward Burtynsky and the art being large photographs. Burtynsky does not photograph cute children or elegant matrons or graduating seniors. He photographs what he calls "Å“industrial incursions." He shoots quarries and mines, and dams and factories, mostly in China.
The director, Jennifer Baichwal, follows Burtynsky through China. The first image is a long pan, fully 10 minutes, of workers in a Chinese factory. Row on row, an assembly line, of bent-headed workers in yellow, the company color. Over this pan, Burtynsky's voice asks: "Is there some way I could talk about Nature? If we destroy Nature, we destroy ourselves." The pan continues as he describes an industrial landscape far more pervasive than the natural landscape it's replaced. "We are not one with the world," Burtynsky continues in a lecture at a gallery.
Burtynsky takes an overhead shot of the hundreds of workers, blocs of them wearing yellow vests, standing by their yellow-painted factory. The image blends into one of a sunflower. Ah, Mother Nature at last. But, no. The sunflower is painted on the side of a van, not in a field.
Over and over Baichwal fills the screen with an image - say, our old telephones heaped in a mound or workers disassembling motherboards for precious embedded elements. Then she pulls back, and the original image becomes a fraction of one of Burtynsky's large photographs or a square out of a bigger scene she's capturing.
Some even think Burtynsky's photos are queerly beautiful, as they transform trash into treasure or an individual worker into a worker bee in a hive. The images shock, even if you think of yourself as an informed greenie. To see this much trash, this many workers putting irons together, this many men extracting sludge from the bottom of an oil tanker, their legs black and slick up to the knee is not pretty.
Baichwal captures Burtynsky as he lectures at home, and she lets him break through the fourth wall, so to speak, as he tells his assistants what to do or negotiates with people to have their pictures taken. The news coming out of Chinese factories every day puts Manufactured Landscapes in a different landscape than the director or its subject may have intended, but it's impossible not to think about lead in toys when watching the workers or noting the mounds of industrial garbage. Manufactured Landscapes should be shown with three other documentaries: The 11th Hour, The Corporation, and An Inconvenient Truth.
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