Documentary follows photographer as he captures the 21st-century industrial revolution at work
May 2, 2008
Wednesday, nearly a year and a half after its Sundance Film Festival screening, "Manufactured Landscapes," a cinematic portrait of Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky, will simultaneously premiere in London and screen at Park City’s Jim Santy Auditorium. Jennifer Baichwal, the director of the film, will be across the Atlantic, fielding questions about what the movie shows, but doesn’t tell: That the Asian industrial revolution’s use of resources and its pollution is visibly overwhelming, and that, in no small way, the responsibility of that excess rests on the world’s shoulders.
In an ideal world, Baichwal confesses, she would rather stay mum, allowing her work, and Burtynsky’s photographs to speak for themselves. "In reality, you want people to see the film and respond to that," she explains over the phone with The Park Record. "I’m not going to give any kind of back story that makes it more meaningful and comprehensible. I would prefer that people see it."
"Manufactured Landscapes" aims to explain a crisis through Burtynsky’s images, translated through film. First and foremost, it is a cinematic portrait of a mid-career artist who takes large-format photographs of factories, toxic recycling facilities and coal-fired power plants. The journey is the continuation of a 20-year exploration into the beauty and danger of landscapes transformed by "progress."
As Burtynsky explains in the film, his vision began with a spontaneous left turn to a Canadian coal-mining town. "I took a 360-degree turnaround and that became one of the most surreal landscapes I had ever seen, totally transformed by man," he says. "That got me to go out and look at the largest industrial incursions I could find. That became the baseline of what I was doing."
"Manufactured Landscapes" is an attempt to get behind the lens of Burtynsky’s camera and see the artist’s mind at work, and in part to stylize a movie based on his massive-scale photographs. These challenges were no small task, admits Baichwal, and she prefers that audiences are able to see both Burtynsky’s prints and the film. At Sundance, Park City’s Julie Nestor Gallery showcased his work, and a gallery in London has likewise teamed up with the film.
"I have to say it’s always better to see the work in person," Baichwal concedes. "The film doesn’t have nearly the kind of resolution that makes you feel the whole impact of the photographs, but it’s one of those paradoxes. It’s the difference between the still medium versus the time-based medium. Our film can follow those people and spend a bit more time with them. The medium brings up different things, and yet, the idea of the iconic scene and the iconic moment is something that is much better captured in photography in film."
Recommended Stories For You
To make images iconic, "Manufactured Landscapes" magnifies time like Burtynsky magnifies his subjects. In the opening scene, the camera pans row after row of workers for eight minutes to let the viewer take in the massively repetitive nature of each person’s task, and the sheer number of workers it takes to assemble just one product.
"Manufactured Landscapes" premiered in Canada in 2006 and has since won the Toronto Film Critics Association award for "Best Canadian Film" and "Best Documentary" in 2006 as well as the Canadian Genie Awards in 2007 for "Best Documentary." This year the film was also nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, an annual American awards ceremony for independent filmmakers.
"Manufactured Landscapes" was in Canadian theaters for four months and has screened in more than 15 territories around the world, according to Baichwal.
"We didn’t expect it would resonate with people as much as it did, but we were hoping that you would have the feeling from watching that film you would feel, at least what I felt, having your consciousness changed without being preached at," she explains.
But achieving that subtle balance became the biggest hurdle. "The biggest struggle we had was in the editing room," Baichwal says. "Here’s a film that’s mostly set in China, but is not about China, it’s about all of us. There’s no question that we are responsible for the industrial revolution in China, because the people that are buying that stuff is us," she reveals.
Baichwal cautions that "Manufactured Landscapes" is not a call to arms as much as it is a call for a shift in perspective about how people consume, and it’s one that she hopes to continue with her creative team – Burtynsky and producers Nick de Pencier and Daniel Iron — in the future. Tentatively, the crew members are planning to document the first carbon-neutral city in China that is slated to be built by an engineering firm – a project that, if they are granted the access, will mean five to seven years of filming.
"I’m not suggesting that everyone rush out and become environmental activists," she explains. "Even small gestures mean a great deal. Just thinking about where something is made before you buy it, even thinking about it before you throw something in the garbage — just being aware. Awareness is always the first step to anything and I think, so long as that film helps people be more aware of their own place in the cycle of consumption and waste, I think we’re happy."
The new Park City Film Series lineup
Park City Film Series’ new lineup continues through June 8 at the Jim Santy Auditorium. With the exception of special screenings that include the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Series, Park City Municipal Corporation’s special presentation and Reel Classics Series films, all screenings are ticketed. Tickets are $7 with discounts for students and seniors. All films will screen at the Jim Santy Auditorium at 1255 Park Ave. For more information, visit parkcityfilmseries.com.
*Charlie Wilson’s War
This weekend: Saturday, May 3 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 4 at 6 p.m.
A comedy starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Charlie Wilson’s War" tells the story of the United States fighting with the Soviet Union over control of Afghanistan. Set in the 1980s, Hanks plays a Texas congressman wooed by a wealthy campaign contributor to fight the covert war. The film is directed by Mike Nichols.
Tuesday, May 6 at 7 p.m.
Park City Municipal Corporation sponsors "Running Dry," a documentary that concerns the global water issues relating to Africa, Southern Asia, Northern China and the Middle East, and the American Southwest. This screening is free.
Wednesday, May 7 at 7 p.m.
"Manufactured Landscapes" is the 2007 Sundance Film Festival documentary that paints a portrait of Edward Burtynsky’s large-scale photographic work concerning recycling yards, factories and coal mines in Asia. This free screening is presented by the Sundance Institute as part of its Documentary Film Series.
Friday, May 9 and Saturday, May 10 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 11 at 6 p.m.
"In Bruges," the dark comedy that opened the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two hit men fleeing their problems by vacationing in Bruges, Belgium.
*The Petrified Forest
Wednesday, May 14 at 7 p.m.
"The Petrified Forest" is a gangster drama about a waitress, hobo and bank robber at a diner in the desert. The film stars Leslie Howard, Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart. Part of the Reel Classics Film Series, this screening is free.
*Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
Friday, May 16 and Saturday, May 17 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 18 at 6 p.m.
"Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" stars Frances McDormand as Miss Pettigrew as an unemployed governess who arrives at a penthouse apartment for an interview and, for one day, ends up a part of the glamorous life of an actress.
Friday, May 23 and Saturday, May 24 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 25 at 6 p.m.
"Persepolis" is the animated feature based on author Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel about the life of a young Persian girl growing up under her native country’s volatile government. The film was nominated for a 2008 Academy Award for "Best Animated Feature Film of the Year," and includes the voices of actors Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands, Catherine Deneuve and Chiara Mastroianni.
*The Band’s Visit
Friday, May 30 and Saturday, May 31 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 1 at 6 p.m.
"The Band’s Visit" is the humorous story of the Ceremonial Police Band of Alexandria, Egypt, that travels to a gig in Israel, but gets lost long the way, arriving in a small desert town.
*My Kid Could Paint That
Wednesday, June 4 at 7 p.m.
"My Kid Could Paint That" is a 2007 Sundance Film Festival documentary about an elementary-school-aged artist credited as a child prodigy for her paintings. The film leaves open the invitation to ponder the question of whether or not the young girl is in fact a genius and what, in this day and age, is considered high art.
Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7 at 8 p.m.; Sunday, June 8 at 6 p.m.
"The Counterfeiters" won the Oscar for "Best Foreign Language Film." Set during World War II, the film centers around Salomon Sorowitsch, an avaricious artist who uses his creativity to become Germany’s top counterfeiter.