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Movie Review: Manufactured Landscapes: Big Beauty deserves big Venue

Shipbreaking No. 1, Chittagong, Bangladesh 2000

MANUFACTURED LANDSCAPES is a feature length documentary on the paradoxically sumptuous work of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. His captivating large scale photographs of ‘manufactured landscapes’ – quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines, dams, along with giant industrial equipment and transportation vehicles – are featured in the journeys he takes to extraordinary sites of industrial activity. They document man’s impact on the planet. Starting with nickel ore mines for example, his work shows the immense scale of how we extract raw materials from the ground, how it’s transported, processed, discarded, recycled and returned to the earth. His photographs have been described as "stunning" and "beautiful," but they are at the same time shocking and disturbing.

The film follows Burtynsky to China as he photographs the evidence and effects of massive industrial revolution. Sites such as the Three Gorges Dam, by far the largest dam in the world, and a factory floor over a kilometre long, point to the human cost of such revolutions. One of the most striking aspects of this film is how it depicts the monotonous existence of Chinese workers. One in particular is shown testing the spray nozels that go on irons. All day long, every day, this is what she does. One has to wonder where and how the Chinese people came to be so submissive, and, why they continue to put up with such pathetic existences in light of the lives of luxury they must see some of their more affluent, newly rich countrymen living.

The ironic, contradictory juxtaposition of beauty, consumption and destruction are seen in a Chinese town filled with scrap metal and discarded computer parts. Workers sieve zombie-like through this strangely sublime mess for re-usable materials. The rest is thrown out and buried. Pollution from it seeps into the water table.The film also shows us huge transport vessels close up, massive parking lots full of cars for export, and my favourite, the hulls of giant oil tankers beached somewhere in the sands of Bangladesh.

We need, says Burtynsky, to see in order to know nature. Similarly, we need to observe in order to understand how humankind has altered the landscape.

The film bears witness both to the ‘epicentres of industrial endeavour and the dumping grounds of its waste.’ without being didactic or judgmental. Here’s the evidence it says. There are no simple answers. It does open eyes, but I saw the film on a TV screen. It suffers as a result. Rent Manufactured Landscapes on DVD for its message. But, to do justice to the majesty of Burtinsky’s strikingly beautiful art, seek out an exhibition, or attend this movie at a repertory theatre next time it comes around.

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