Manufactured Landscapes left me feeling very strange. The doc, directed by Jennifer Baichwal, arrives from The Toronto International Film Festival with an award for best Canadian feature. What Baichwal does is attempt to replicate what photographer Edward Burtynsky does with his photographs, but with moving images. Ostensibly she's following him around as he visits China and Bangladesh to document the new industrial revolution with photos of immense factory floors, dumps of electronic goods, or e-waste, the Three Gorges Dam Project, shipbuilding yards and beaches where rusty-hulled ships are torn apart. Where my personal strange feeling comes from is in being immersed in those images for 86 minutes. It puts you in a trance. The film opens with a very long tracking shot that travels down a kilometer-long Chinese electronic widget factory, its product largely exported to us here in the west, and then sent back to China once it's all used up to be inefficiently recycled and poison the groundwater. The role we play in this cycle is implicit, but the images presented appall any in the audience with an environmental conscience. Yet, there's no doubt of the beauty in all that damage, like the way the sun can look through smog.Burtynsky has been criticized in some quarters by his avoidance of political attitude in his imagery, that as a wealthy, successful western artist capturing the toil of the third world with his clinical lens, he exploits his subject matter. I was happy to hear in his narration that he's well aware of the role he plays in this system (he says he was inspired to take these photos when contemplating how oil impacts his life) and the questions he's asking of himself are the very questions the film forces the audience to ask of itself. All at once, I felt a kinship with the Chinese workers, and then I was afraid for them, and finally, for myself. The machinery of industry is at a pitch there, with few of the kind of concerns we have here for what will be left after the land is exhausted. There is something of the sublime in seeing all that progress, all that feverish demand, and something hopelessly apocalyptic, too.
Speaking of apocalyptic, I saw Road to Guantanamo this evening, Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross's docudrama about three British men who were detained in Afghanistan and shipped off to the American base in Cuba. In the end they were held for over two years and never charged, and their civil rights, their human rights, were continually and regularly violated. The story is told in reenactment, with actors playing the parts of the actual men, whose faces we see as they narrate the story after the fact. It's a tricky thing to do, because as Peter Reiner, critic from The Christian Science Monitor, said during the Q & A held at the end of the screening, this kind of docudrama can be very manipulative. However you receive the truth of the film's tale---and I will stop now from discussing it directly since it is also part of el reviewero embargino---there's no doubt that what these men endured at the hands of the American military was brutal and unforgivable. Guantanamo has become a major symbol in the efforts of the American administration to extend its global empire and ignore decades of international bilateral work. Fucking scary, is what it is. I gather this picture has had a limited release in the US, but I think it should be shown on American television, where it can reach a much larger audience. These issues need to be continually brought up until due process comes into play. Thus concludeth el soapbox.
You're going to think I am a glutton for punishment, but directly following I chose to see Baghdad ER. This is an actual documentary with no reenactments, though one must always have a critical eye when seeing film that was approved by the American military. This is an HBO production about the medics who work in the Green Zone in Baghdad, working on the American soldiers who come in, most of them wounded by IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). It's bloody like the fucking surgery channel, with actual wartime wounds shown in Technicolor. I was okay with the surgeon rooting around in a guy's foot, the use of the word "exsanguinated," and the severed arm dropped into the big garbage baggie, but I could not watch the eyeball stitching. Anything with eyes, ugh. I was impressed that the doctors were able to on camera give their honest opinions of the war (“madness,” said one, without assigning blame), but some of the soldiers seem disappointed to be leaving, even when they've watched a buddy lose their face, or lost limbs of their own. That kind of devotion to duty seems a bit mad, to me. But this isn't a documentary that ventures anywhere near the big picture, it just offers a window into the lives of some people who do a certain kind of job in a very hostile environment.
I'm starting to get that mid-fest feeling that I'm not seeing enough. It comes over me as I move from one Park Lane screening room to another, and pick up peripheral buzz from a conversation going on beside me, held by a couple just disgorged from some picture that really grabbed them. I did have to miss A Sunday in Kigali today, partly because I was afraid of burning out on all this political intensity. It's why I try to avoid genre theme movie nights. By the end of a second or third film, you've had it with zombies or serial killers or incest love stories. You don't want that. I've heard some very good things about a few other pictures I'm sorry I missed, including Puppy and the doc, Sharkwater. I just can't be everywhere. Sigh.