Manufactured Landscapes

(Dir. Jennifer Baichwal, 2006)

“It's gloomy,” the company gatekeepers tell Edward Burtynsky. The photographer is attempting to debate his way into another Chinese industrial waste zone. The uniformed personnel insist the landscape is no good for photos. Theirs is an expected perspective, one the viewer might usually share. This assumption sets up one of the strengths of Burtynsky's work and Jennifer Baichwal's film. Armed with Super 16 mm and field camera, Burtynsky's well-honed eye picks out the appealing geometry and epic human efforts in the world of industrial impact. Baichwal and Burtynsky capture grand panoramas and crowds with a detached distance before zooming intimately into the quiet, personal space of daily activities.

 
 Outside a factory compound in China

Outside a factory compound in China

 

It's an unseen world to many of us who don't live in it, but it's one that is intimately connected to our own. Burtynsky makes a point to not overtly politicize his exhibitions and Baichwal's coverage attempts the same. This is a tactful effort to avoid alienating audiences who might not show up for the environmental message. While many curious viewers are simply there for the photographic merit and stunning views, the vast landscapes of waste and resource extraction illustrate a cause-and-effect message that may be impossible to avoid. Baichwal tempers this visual impact with sparse dialogue and an elegant, minimalist score by Dan Driscoll. The landscapes transform from the material results of unparalleled expansion into the impact of our attempts to curb its environmental effects, further complicating any slapdash conclusions. Piles of recycled computer parts lie on family porches, their metals burned off in toxic fires, yet scenes like this are juxtaposed with evidence of the improved quality of life for many in Shanghai. Manufactured Landscapes offers no easy answers, but much exposure.

 
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If you ever get the chance to see Manufactured Landscapes on the big screen, this is the way to see it. The immensity of the locations are stunning on theatrical scale. The film was brought back for screening as part of AIFF's Telefilm Canada 50 program, a celebration of Telefilm's 50th anniversary. Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal's Long Time Running was AIFF's opening gala film.

Part of our AIFF 2017 Review Roundup