Movie Reviews: "Manufactured Landscapes" by by Jennifer Baichwal


I had the honor of attending The Green Caravan Film Festival this past week, and one movie that I strongly recommend from the screening I saw at the event is Manufactured Landscapes, which presents us with a series of visual/industrial nightmarescapes from the bowels of China's entry into (the back end) of globalization processes.

The film takes us through a variety of scenes: an assembly plant of hyper-controled workers, to a village that disassembles imported e-waste, to displaced villagers from the Three Gorges Dam project who have been hired by the Chinese government to tear down their own villages with their own hands, to the rapid "modernization of Shanghai.

The whole movie is breathtaking, and although the photographer strives to not place judgement on that which he captures, these stark "manufactored landscapes" present us with some uncomfortable images. THis is not because the photographer attempts to lace any messages or protest in his photographs, but because the scale and dismal nature of the subjects and landscapes remind us of that thing we knew all along int he back of our minds: the rapid modernization witnessed in many parts of the world...ahem...including the just plain creepy at points. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the morality of globalization.

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES is a feature length documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky makes large-scale photographs of ‘manufactured landscapes’ – quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines, dams. He photographs civilization’s materials and debris, but in a way people describe as “stunning” or “beautiful,” and so raises all kinds of questions about ethics and aesthetics without trying to easily answer them.

The film follows Burtynsky to China as he travels the country photographing the evidence and effects of that country’s massive industrial revolution. Sites such as the Three Gorges Dam, which is bigger by 50% than any other dam in the world and displaced over a million people, factory floors over a kilometre long, and the breathtaking scale of Shanghai’s urban renewal are subjects for his lens and our motion picture camera.

Shot in Super-16mm film, Manufactured Landscapes extends the narrative streams of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our profound impact on the planet and witness both the epicentres of industrial endeavour and the dumping grounds of its waste. What makes the photographs so powerful is his refusal in them to be didactic. We are all implicated here, they tell us: there are no easy answers. The film continues this approach of presenting complexity, without trying to reach simplistic judgements or reductive resolutions. In the process, it tries to shift our consciousness about the world and the way we live in it.

Arab Knowledge Report 2009 Now Available


A report by through joint sponsorship and support of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (MBRF) and the United Nations Development Programme/ Regional Bureau for Arab States (UNDP/RBAS) aimed at:

The Arab Knowledge Report 2009 examines the current state of Arab knowledge. It derives its legitimacy from the pressing need for information about knowledge performance in the region at a time when the importance of knowledge for the realisation of the many new prospects it has opened up for all areas of society is increasing
Still a bit confused? So am I, and I have not read it yet, join me in reading it here.

The Guardian: "Arab winds of change Who is driving real change in the Arab countries? Not politicians, but feminists, gay people and bloggers"


Piece by Brian Whitaker, for the full link click here

"Women, bloggers and gays lead change in the Arab world." That is the headline of an article by Octavia Nasr for CNN's blog AC360°. "Several new lines are being drawn in the Middle East's desert sand simultaneously," she writes. "If they continue to be drawn at this rate longer and thicker, it's hard to foresee any governments, censors or jails being able to stop them."

Though Nasr sounds a bit overexcited about the existence of a feminist mag in Arabic in which "no one dares to advertise" and a few other developments which are interesting straws in the wind but scarcely signs of an imminent revolution, I think she has a point. If asked where change is likely to come from in the Arab countries, I would not put much faith in "reformist" politicians and opposition parties – they're mostly no-hopers – but I would definitely put feminists, gay men, lesbians and bloggers very high on my list.

It's important not to exaggerate what they are actually achieving at the moment, but let's consider their potential as challengers of the status quo and drivers of change. The "Arab problem" is mostly perceived in terms of the regimes: the lack of democracy, authoritarian rulers who trample over people's rights, and so on. That was the perception of the Bush administration in particular and it led to the simplistic idea that regime change was the solution.

It's now very clear (as I explain in my new book, What's Really Wrong With the Middle East) that this was a mistake. You can overthrow dictators, you can force countries to have elections and you can even insist on voting procedures that are reasonably fair, but that doesn't bring freedom unless it forms part of a much bigger social transformation.

American Woman Marries and Auto-Rickshaw Driver


What do you think? Was this college student just swept off her feet in "incredible India" or is the real deal? How long do you give the marriage?

The Morality of the Hummer


Ever wonder what drives people to buy Hummers? Is there a certain philosophy correlated with Hummer buyers? A Germany study sought to see if so and produced an article in the Journal for Consumer Research with their findings entitled, "Consumer Identity Work as a Moral Protagonism: How Myth and Ideology Animate a Brand-Mediated Moral Conflict". The researchers found that the anti-hummer movement had a clear moral agenda behind their disdain, and wondered if the pro-hummer buyers had a likewise moral imperative.

They found that, according to

Americans who believe in rugged individualism and the frontier myth see an H2 as John Wayne on wheels. “As we studied American Hummer owners and their ideological beliefs, we found that they consider Hummer driving a highly moral consumption choice,” the authors wrote. “For Hummer owners it is possible to claim the moral high ground.”

Researchers Marius Luedicke, Craig Thompson, and Markus Giesler interviewed 20 “U.S.-born and raised” Hummer owners who said their vehicles are rolling representations of their beliefs, the same way that environmentalists might be more likely to choose a Prius or Starbucks-haters might be proud to sit at an independent coffee shop...

“Our analysis of the underlying American identity discourses revealed that being under siege by (moral) critics is an historically established feature of being an American,” the authors wrote. “The moralistic critique of their consumption choices readily inspired Hummer owners to adopt the role of the moral protagonist who defends American national ideals.”

Oh if a similiar study were to be conducted in Kuwait on Hummer users here. Why stop there? We should get a cross-section of hummer users everywhere in the world.

The Faces of a Slum...Literally!


This video is an extract from the project Women Are Heroes by JR, taken in Nairobi Kenya in January 2009. The exhibition is from October 3 to November 2 in Paris, France. Here is a link.

Hilarious Sudanese Song


You know the world is getting globalized when folk songs start to change their lyrics to talk about mobile phones! Here is a translation one of my friends provided me with:

"Mobili! Someone did unpleasant thing to me! They stole my mobile! My mobile is expensive! How did he do this? I lost all my contact numbers! His heart is 'empty' and he is unperfect! If he knew that what he did is not pretty at all, he would be sincere! Why when I walk in crowded street they steal my mobile!"

October 24: International Day of Climate Action


Women in Kuwait Get Another Right


Today the law changed to allow Kuwaiti women to obtain their passports without permission from a husband or male guardian. According to Al-Jazeera English:

The highest court in the Gulf Arab nation issued the ruling on Tuesday, abrogating an article in a 1962 law that required women to gain their husband's prior approval before travelling.

Kuwait Times: "Saudi Woman Sees Red"


This is hilarious!

RIYADH: A Saudi woman is suing for divorce after she found out that her husband had branded her "Guantanamo" on his cellphone, a report said yesterday. The wife took a look at the phone when her husband of 17 years left it at home, only to discover that his phonebook entry for her came under the name of the notorious US war-on-terror prison in Cuba, the Al-Watan newspaper reported. Outraged, the woman, who was not identified, demanded divorce or, at the least, substantial damages, Al-Watan said.

Focus of the Month


I will focus on the environment and climate change in the Gulf for October-November in honor of the Environmental Film Festival hosted by Equilibrium later this month, as well as the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP15 in early December. The latest article from today by The Kuwait Times listed in my previous blog is alarming. Kuwait has the financial resources to be a better performer on environment and pollution, so why such a low outlook?

Kuwait Times Roundup


Kuwait environment 'highly polluted'

"Kuwait is one of the most polluted countries in the Gulf region, with its marine life, atmosphere and soil degrading to alarming levels, said Dr Hamad Al-Mutar, Head of Kuwait's Green Peace Organization and a Chemistry professor at the Kuwait University....Dr. Al-Mutar pointed out that Umm Al-Haiman area is considered the most-polluted area in the country, noting that the Environment Public Authority (EPA) had previously informed the Cabinet about the area's unsuitability for inhabitation due to it close proximity to oil refineries in Al-Shuaiba...Furthermore, Dr. Al-Mutairi indicated that the 'Umm Al-Qawatti' area, located in the northern part of the country, has been used by the Kuwaiti Army as a 'dumpster' for unloading waste. It is also contaminated with Uranium, which has been responsible for the rising cancer rates in the country..."

Protest at book fair censorship

"Kuwait's leading liberal movement has vowed to defy state censorship placed on books by staging a sit-in on Oct 31. This demonstration will mark a protest against any ban on publications during the upcoming book fair. It will be organized by Kuwait later this month. "Burning books is equal to burning people," said Dr. Mohammad Al-Hasan, Secretary General of the Liberal Democratic Forum movement during a seminar that was organized by the forum under the title 'Censorship Protects Ignorance,' which was held at the diwaniya of Abdullah Al-Nibari in Dahiyat Abdullah Al-Salem on Tuesday. Al-Hasan held the government accountable for what he described as 'intellectual terrorism' by imposing strict censorship on various kinds of publications, including books.."

Indonesia bans maids recruitment to Kuwait

The Indonesian Labor Ministry has temporarily suspended deployment of Indonesian housemaids to Kuwait. The decision was implemented in Jakarta by the Indonesian Ministry of Labor at least until the issues of some 600 runaway housemaids are resolved. We are sad to issue this decision, but it is for the greater benefit of our workers," said Indonesian Ambassador to Kuwait and Bahrain, Faisal Ismail, as he spoke with the Kuwait Times yesterday about the new development. " We currently have around 600 runaway housemaids at our embassy. They have issues that need to be resolved, and although the government of Kuwait has been very helpful, until their concerns are resolved we have to temporarily suspend deployment," said ambassador Ismail.

Dubai Sound City Music Festival


It is quite a rare opportunity to see live music in the Gulf. My experience here in Kuwait is that most "concerts" involve stale hotels and buffet dinners, which completely takes away from the experience!

Dubai is hosting a music festival Nov. 5-7 that has a pretty kickin' line-up, some headlining acts including: Echo and the Bunnymen, De La Soul, The Doves, The Futureheads, Human League...need I say more?

I believe there early bird specials, so take advantage while you can. Here is the event website.

Bringing Fun Back to the City


Any suggestions for something similar to do in Kuwait?

Kuwait Times: "Kuwaiti named one of Washington's top 100 women in charity work"


"The wife of Kuwait's Ambassador to Washington, Sheikha Rima Al-Sabah, was named by a prominent Washingtonian magazine as one and the only Arab and foreigner of the 100 most distinctive women in Washington in the field of advocacy and nonprofit work. Rima Al-Sabah is among the top Washington hostesses and had raised over seven million dollars in five years for humanitarian causes she supports.

Al-Sabah said that her mission does not stop here, and that she will continue to find a cause she feels passionate about and will help raise money to help in any way. Asked how she picks her causes, "They pick me," she responded, explaining that coincidences and many other factors are involved.

Every year, Kuwait's Ambassador Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Rima Al-Sabah hold an Annual Gala Dinner to raise money, each year for a different beneficiary. Since 2005, Rima Al-Sabah, who is the Founder and Chairwoman of the Gala, her efforts included raising USD one million to benefit USA for UNHCR in its efforts to assist Iraqi refugees wishing to return home.

In 2006, over $ 1.2 million was raised to benefit UNICEF in its efforts to improve educational opportunities for children in Afghanistan, especially girls, whereas in 2007, USD 1.4 million went to Project HOPE and the development of the Basrah children's hospital in Iraq, while in 2008, $D 1.6 million was raised for reducing malaria in Africa.

The adopted cause in 2009 was the fight against climate change, with USD 1.8 million raised. As for her 2010 cause, Al-Sabah told KUNA that she plans to raise over U SD two million for the Central Asia Institute to help build schools for girls in remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan...." (click here for full article)

Green Caravan Film Festival 2009!


There will be an environmental film festival here in Kuwait happening on October 28-29 in Al-Madain Cultural Centre and presented by Equilibrium, and environmental services company based in Kuwait. I am very excited about this!

The program can be found by clicking here. I plan to see both the 6:30 screening on Wednesday and Thursday. You can sign up to be a GCFF volunteer by sending an email to This is a great initiative and I hope to see you there.

Two Worthwhile In-Depth Reports by Al-Jazeera English


Postcard from Jordan


I am sorry for the recent disappearance from my blog. I have been completely inundated at my work. But what happens with a deluge? We ride it out, and I am floating down all the way to Jordan for the weekend. I will put pictures. Then I will be back in full glory!