Manufactured Landscapes Jennifer Baichwal

Edward Burtynsky is a photographer of manmade horrors: strip mines, massive factories and general piles of refuse on the roadside to what we all like to think of as progress. This film tries to take his striking, enormous photographs and translate them into cinematic terms as he goes about recording the unnatural devastation of China’s economic boom. Beginning with an endless track down an impossibly long factory floor, the film deals briefly with Burtynsky’s method: he doesn’t like to editorialise, merely point out that the wasted world is the direct but universally repressed result of the very machines and consumer items most of us take for granted. In any event, the big screen proves to be the ideal format for the artist’s milieu — nothing says terrified awe like watching the rusted-out hulk of an oil tanker or the building of the Three Gorges Dam unfolding in minute-long zooms. Three Gorges proves to be the ideal location for Burtynsky, as it not only offers an artificial panorama but the fact that it’s displacing 1.1 million Chinese, who are now being paid to dismantle their communities brick by brick. The subject’s work has long been a source of disquiet (a retrospective at Toronto’s AGO once took my breath away), and combined as the images are with his sparse voiceover, the film makes a superb introduction to an important body of work, and in turn, the urgent issues of modern living that the work inevitably asks. Aided by superb cinematography and ominous sound design, the film does more than make you want to know about Burtynsky, but reflects the image of ourselves created by the funhouse mirror he holds to our faces.