I teach several media studies courses at the post-secondary level and am currently developing one on the post-9/11 renaissance of the independent film documentary -- everything from the Michael Moore phenomenon, through the anti-Bush and anti-war films, to the works inspired by the inconvenient truths told by Al Gore. So I have studied a lot of films that pack a heavy punch. But *Manufactured Landscapes* is the most stunning one I’ve seen to date. The Yeatsian phrase “a terrible beauty” is hardly sufficient to describe it. It’s just a knockout.
For anyone with the curiosity to peek inside the Chinese machine that feeds Western shopaholism, this film is a must-see. It does not -- repeat NOT -- intercut its scenes of Chinese industrial landscapes and gargantuan factory interiors with scenes of equally gargantuan North American shopping malls and superstores. But those intercuts will nevertheless happen quite vividly inside the head of any half-thoughtful viewer of this film.
The film’s intention is to celebrate the photographic art of Ed Burtynsky -- and on that level, the film is itself a work of art-for-art’s-sake. But it is also profoundly political and moral, spiritual and informative. Any viewer unable to experience something like an intimate connection with these Chinese workers, whose spirit and energy inhabit every Walmart purchase in the kitchens and closets of North America, is a hopeless captive of politicians and pundits who elbow each other for face-time on American TV to play at the politics of fear.
The film is not exclusively about Chinese landscapes; for example, we get to see Bangladesh, where the giant carcases of oil tankers are disassembled for valuable scrap by teenagers and young men up to their necks in oily residue. Scenes like these are familiar to viewers of CBC’s investigative journalism, which nevertheless can’t touch this film in its meticulous attention to detail.
I note that *Manufactured Landscapes* is not yet available in its US edition on Amazon.com, but I would urge all Americans to preorder it. You’ve just gotta see it. If it doesn’t win some kind of film award, I’m gonna make a big nasty point of that in my upcoming course on the postmodernization of documentary filmmaking.