Movie Reviews: "Manufactured Landscapes" by by Jennifer Baichwal

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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.

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