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Manufactured Landscapes | Review

Meet the Demand

Portrait of a portrait reveals how abstract beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

With technological monstrosities that exceed the commonplace, with backdrops that give a newly defined notion of abnormal and with exhibits that demonstrate how the class system ultimately dedicates one’s quality of life, in many respects, this year’s most disconcerting film literally resembles that of a science fiction universe. Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary portrait of a photographer is far from being a simple companion piece about what one artist considers “art”, instead, Manufactured Landscapes is a collage of rarely seen selection of images that mentally punctuate how environmental and social damages are created by many factors such as consumerism and over-population. After a showing in Toronto and an upcoming viewing at Sundance, this should leave many gasping for fresher air.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic, “wallmarting” of the landscape and acidic grey clouds are indeed eye soars and cause for concern, but the damages are figuratively less apparent. This doc globetrots to the zones that offer the sort of cartography that comments on the progressive/destructive nature of humanity – such habitats also happen to be where artist Edward Burtynsky finds the thematic inspiration for his photo essays. From manufacturing plants in China, to wastelands of recycled bits or stripped down ships, there is indeed an odd beauty found in his images – and Baichwal takes the famed snapshots of the artist and further adds volume to the narrative found within his pictures.

Surprisingly – the no commentary, essay-like approach makes for a more impressionable movie-going experience, but what strikingly makes this pertinent is how this doc filmmaker captures the overwhelmingness of the landscape by illustrating the vastness much in the same manner as the artist does. Focus pulls on an image and the matching of the live footage with a still photograph grippingly shows the scope of the deformation of the land, destruction of the water supply and ultimately killing life. The film’s opening tracking shot is spellbinding in how it displays rows and rows of man and machine communions.

Can’t blame them for wanting what we have, but perhaps we can blame ourselves for continuing the madness. In a critical juncture in time where global warming is other people’s problem, what a doc like An Inconvenient Truth was lacking was more of a varied discourse on the human costs – this might be the first doc that will make you feel guilty about owning the computer in which you are reading this from, but more importantly, the lack of interference, the omission of a persuasive argument and the paradox of the edited images convincingly makes an argument without necessarily emphasizing the argument. A small doc worth seeing, observing and filtering.

Reviewed December 8th 2006-

Rating 4 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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