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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes - beauty and the beast

The hit documentary Manufactured Landscapes of 06 Toronto International Film Festival and now making a splash in the realm of Sundance this year typifies what TVO and the NFB do best - produce very insightful documentaries with a deep message that leave with you wonder.

China is going through a new industrial revolution as it attempts to keep pace with the demands of a burgeoning populace. The demand for power, fuels, supplies is far greater than their present technologies.

The opening shot of Manufactured Landscapes is a long tracking shot from one end of the factory floor to the other, the camera taking in all the men and women doing their little repetitive tasks as they make toys, or sensors. There is little mechanization, this is assembly line by human labour.

China has become the vast dumping ground of the world's discarded and recycled parts: things such as computer monitors, motherboards are discarded by the millions and end up in China by the hillsideful and are stripped by hand for anything useful: the metal, the wiring, for example.

It is the eye of photography Edward Burtynsky that sees composition amidst the chaos, beauty is in the eye of the beholder amidst the debris - the beauty is in the details.

Director Jennifer Baichwal follows Burtynsky as he clambers amongst the hillside, or perched atop scaffolding or ladders, carrying his 4x5 camera he looks for the composition and the light. The director's cinematographers will dwell on a part of the picture which in itself is beautiful and telling and then zoom back to show the enormity of scale - it's like seeing Blow-Up in reverse. The centre is just a speck in the macrocosm that is China.

The manufactured landscape is a different type of landscape - the kind that is the product of man and his relationship with industrialization. It is industry versus nature. Despite the photographer's intent that he is not trying to take a stance, where at the exhibition that he lets the viewers come their own conclusion, the pictures he say do not try to condemn or glorify what is happening but the pictures speak for themselves.

Manufactured Landscapes goes outside of the country too to see the effects of globalization of industry elsewhere. The two words oil epiphany are two words that come to him. The building blocks of industry come from oil, and China as the new factory of the world is an endproduct. He pictures the deep digs into the earth, the levels of the scars of the quarries and mines which are the accumulation of time are like tree rings. Industrialization is placing a tremendous toll on the natural landscapes, and even more devastating effects upon the people and the quality of their lives. The scavengers on the hillsides dig for the metals in order to work and survive and earn their pay. The leeching of the metals into the ground affects drinking water. Rivers are deadly. The enormous scale of the Three Gorges Dam which is going to level an enormous part of China and sink cities in the process - and the Chinese government is paying its own people to tear down their own homes and cities brick by brick. The people who are being resettled find themselves in new settlements but they are becoming the new impoverished peasants in a new land with nothing to do. There are tragic portraits of old ladies who are reduced to doing nothing but menial tasks : sorting or stripping the parts to survive. Or the lady who refuses to leave her apartment while the tenements around her are demolished for new construction. Burtnysky and Baichal capture this all leaving you to find the shock and awe in all the splendour of manufactured landscapes.

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