Manufactured Landscapes (Edward Burnynsky)

From the BFI website… “Jennifer Baichwal’s award-winning documentary centres on renowned artist Edward Burtynsky whose large-scale photographs portray the devastating impact of industrial expansion on the environment.

Baichwal observes the artist at work amid some of the most surreal landscapes of the 21st century: China’s mountains of computer waste; the Yangtze River where whole towns are disappearing in the flooding caused by the Three Gorges Dam; the shipbreaking yards of Bangladesh; Shanghai, with its increasingly crowded skyline and millions of new inhabitants.

Eschewing polemics, Burtynsky aims simply to bring these landscapes into our consciousness, to provoke reflection on some highly inconvenient truths. Yet Baichwal’s film also exposes a tension between ethics and aesthetics: aren’t these images of apocalyptic splendour just a little too seductive? One thing’s for sure: it’s a terrible beauty that’s born.”

I saw this about a month ago and it blew me away. Although it was filmed back in 2006 it only saw a UK DVD release this week via the British Film Institute so I’ve been resisting the temptation to write this post until now.

Manufactured Landscapes is the most visually stunning documentary I’ve seen in a long time. It seems to have received a little criticism for the lack of any overtly ethical component in it’s narrative but for me that worked out well, providing an opportunity to absorb all the information on offer and consider the ethical connotations for myself once the film was over. As a film about social and economical issues, arguably perhaps it does lack something in addressing it’s ethical responsibility but as a film about a photographer and his work, I think it’s right on point.

I read another review where the author called the film boring (!!) which to me is madness. There’s no doubt this documentary takes it’s time but (in my view) anything else would be inappropriate and fail to do justice to the unquestionable depth and detail of Burtynsky’s work. For me, the combination of relaxed pace and calmly meandering, non didactic narrative was close to perfect. I seriously can’t recommend this enough.

If you’re still not convinced, there’s a well executed New York Times review here from sometime around the films US release date last year.

Finally, here’s a 10 minute compilation of excerpts from youtube…

Posted in Culture, Documentaries, Motion, Photography.

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