Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I'm disappointed with Jennifer Baichwal's film


Yesterday, I saw two films, one which I had been anticipating since the beginning of September, and the second which blew my socks off.

Unfortunately, Jennifer Baichwal's film, called Manufactured Landscapes is not half as good as Rechercher Victor Pellerin. In the press folderol that goes along with the film, some nameless hack writes that the film 'is a feature length documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky.' Only if Mr. Burtynsky lived in China and was an environmental activist. If they were going to be truthful they would have written that slightly more than a third of the film is on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. The other third or so, is about how quickly China is trying to catch up to North America and Europe, and the last third is about how bad the destruction of Nature is.

There is a grand total of one scene that shows how Mr. Burtynsky negotiates to be able to take the pictures that he does. Throughout the film Ms. Baichwal attempts to copy Mr. Burtynsky's work, unfortunately, Ms. Baichwal is not Mr. Burtynsky. Then what really got my goat going, was that there were a large amount of shots that were just Ms. Baichwal filming Mr. Burtynsky's photographs. Sometimes with a pan, sometimes with a zoom out, sometimes static.

There was no a single shot, no matter the zoom, pan or whatever which lasted more than 7 seconds. Ms. Baichwal, how am I supposed to wrap my eyes and brain around an enlargement of one of Mr. Burtynsky's photographs (which by the by are already pretty large to begin with) in 7 seconds? Do you automatically assume that everyone can take in absolutely everything in an image in 7 seconds? Or is it that you feel that Mr. Burtynsky's images are only worth 7 seconds each?

Jeff Powis' archival footage of Mr. Burtynsky and the slide show presentation of the negotiations are the only things worthwhile in the whole movie. Dan Driscoll's music is derivative and annoying. In the film we only see Mr. Burtynsky take Polaroid pictures, I never knew that Polaroid pictures could be enlarged that much. While a good deal has been made about the landscape photographs Mr. Burtynsky takes, there was not a single mention of how he goes about discovering these places.

Then as there is a large political content in the film, ostensibly about how destruction of Nature and industrialization is not good - I want to know how Ms. Baichwal feels about Mr. Burtynsky being able to sell a single photograph he took for tens of thousands of dollars (if not more, once you take into account the multiples and the books and the, and the...) and in fact in many cases that photograph is of some unnamed worker who makes less than $5/day.

Personally, if I were Ms. Baichwal (or Mr. Burtynsky for that matter) I'd start paying the models. If anyone wants to make a political statement in a film about Mr. Burtynsky, it would be a good idea to make sure that all your bases are covered before you start to run the camera.

If I were reviewing the film, I'd be hard pressed to give it a 'C.' Only worth viewing if you don't have to pay for it (which is a pity because for the most part even if you don't see it, you will have paid for it, such is the nature of government funding of Canadian films). And it only further entrenches my belief that cultural bureaucrats, and especially cultural bureaucrats in Toronto don't have a freakin' clue.

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