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Movie Review-Manufactured Landscapes

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Written by Jeremy Hatt

Manufactured Landscape starts with a virtuoso opening shot: an uncut, ten-minute pan of the inside of a factory in China. There is no music, no dialogue; just the hum and buzz of the seemingly infinite lines of machinery and workers. This expository shot does not debate any issues or ask audiences to take a position nor does it provide any one-sided commentary on the issues of politics, economy or the environment. It simply allows viewers to witness our capacity to consume and alter Earth’s landscapes and resources. It is up to us to decide in our own minds whether we are witnessing a problem demanding attention, an inevitable fate of our society, or a testament to our advances.

The documentary covers photographer Edward Burtynsky who travels the world to shoot landscapes that have been virtually annihilated by manufacturing and industrial development. His artistic photographs are frightening, yet eerily beautiful; a paradox that humans take great pride in our technological advances at the expense of the planet we live on. Burtynsky’s photographs are a reminder that globalization, consumer behaviours, and demands that soar above available resources are all having detrimental effects on the environment.

The director, Jennifer Baichwal, effectively uses real footage from the landscapes alongside Burtynsky’s photographs to demonstrate a world we try to forget. Filmed entirely in China, the documentary does not target the country as a source of the problem but rather uses it as a case study representing issues that occur worldwide. There are a range of photographs depicting enormous wastelands of garbage, burning oil fields with no evidence of life, barren lands without an ounce of water, and expansive urban centers blanketed by a brown sky. With lamentable music adding to the poignancy of Burtynsky’s photographs, this film captures our attention and is hard to ignore.

The closing shot of the movie is just as effective as the opening shot. Now that the audience has seen the photographs and footage of the altered landscapes, we have time to reflect. The video camera stands motionless on a sterile, darkened landscape free of life; and just over the horizon is not a setting sun, but a blinking advertisement before an expansive city fading into the beyond.

Baichwal made the right decision by not including too much dialogue or forcing messages upon the audience. By witnessing the capacity in which humans can destroy the environment through Burtynsky’s photographs and Baichwal’s film, it is clear that without a stabilization of the rapidly growing world population and a reformation of the world’s economy and demands, it may be too late to recover from the environmental pressures we are exerting on the planet.

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