Film review: Manufactured Landscapes

A visually riveting mix of video and stills, Manufactured Landscapes unfolds with the beauty of

On July 4, a quick plug for a film about the rise of the next great nation – and quite possibly home of the worst environmental crises of the coming century. Manufactured Landscapes walks you straight into the smoking, roaring and shockingly photogenic ground floor of China Inc. Whether you’re a green type, Asia-phile, photography fan or cineastes, it’s a must see.

Short of traveling to China’s far flung, fast multiplying archipelago of industrial cities, there is no better way to grasp the physical scale of the changes transforming the country. Without judgement, and with modest yet informative narrative, Manufactured Landscapes documents one staggering vision after another: Mile-long consumer electronics plants, megalopolises sprouting like kudzu, highways gridlocked the day they open, and oceans of factory workers who — even while feverishly making goods for export — aspire to a consumerist lifestyle for themselves, and as quick as possible. It all makes vivid the gathering momentum behind China’s appetite for materials and energy.

Edward Burtynsky, the photographer who acts as a sort of tour-guide cum lecturer thru this film, has been taking ultra-high resolution, billboard-sized portraits of industrial landscapes for the past 30 years. You see some of his early work, where he focused principally on natural landforms altered by human industrial activities—like the bright blue drainage tailings that split in half an impossibly monochromatic landscape outside an abandoned mind. More recently, his interests have taken him to China, and his focus was broadened to include industrial processes as a form of landscape. These include assembly lines so long they recede into the distance; peasants pounding apart circuit boards as their children frolic on piles of electronic waste; and the routinely methodical dismantling of whole villages to make way for new dams, skyscrapers, and malls. As Burtynsky shows, China’s appetite for energy, materials and growth are exploding a time when the West has already used up most of the world’s cheap resources.

A visually riveting mix of video and stills, Manufactured Landscapes unfolds with the beauty of Koyaanisqatsi and packs all the environmental punch of An Inconvenient Truth. Check it out on a big screen if you can. More here:

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