Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal (Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles and The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia)
has made a film about the celebrated Canadian still-photographer Edward Burtynsky and the singular niche he's staked out: documenting the striking, if paradoxical, aesthetic to be found in the detritus of huge industrial landscapes. Shot extensively in China and some in Bangladesh, Burtynsky's canvases are large-format scenes of these "manufactured landscapes," which he describes as "industrial incursions," byproducts of globalization and the out-of-control activities of red-hot economies like those in many Asian countries today. The slag heaps created by massive coal and copper strip-mining operations, the enormous recycling dumps (China being the final resting place for 50% of the world's computers), the huge rock quarries and factories. He documents the making of the largest dam ever built by man, the Three Gorges Dam, a 600-kilometer reservoir on the former site of 13 cities that have been razed and relocated for this project. In his works, the photographer makes no editorial comments; it's up to the viewer to respond and articulate.
While humans figure only marginally, if at all, in Burtynsky's compositions their overwhelming presence and influence emanate from beyond the frame's four corners filmmaker Baichwal brings the human capital component into her film, making explicit this unspoken dimension of Burtynsky's work. The opening scene of the film is an eight-minute-long tracking shot from one end of a 480-meter-long Chinese factory floor to the other, where, during an interminably long scene, we survey row after row of yellow-jacketed factory workers. Later, the camera will linger on the repetitive, brain-numbing, hands-on assembly work that these Chinese factory workers do, day after day. Makes you look twice, as an end-user of all those everyday technologies.
Wednesday, Feb. 14, 7pm
Alamo Drafthouse Downtown