We, for the most part, are so inured to living in our manufactured landscapes that it takes someone else’s lens to bring our moral dilemma into focus. Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary, “Manufactured Landscapes” about Edward Burtynsky’s curiously ravishing photography of ruined landscapes and massive factory floors sets out to be that lens.
It’s kind of unfortunate that the subject of this film’s examination of our enormous and frightening impact on the environment seems more interested in nailing a coveted gallery opening or selling glossy, gorgeous coffee table books than in exposing what our hunger for stuff is doing to the planet. That it does that anyway is somewhat more to the credit of the filmmaker than the photographer.
Initially, Ms. Baichwal seems to take her cue from Mr. Burtynksy in that there is a striking lack of context in the admittedly gorgeous shots of toxic rivers, mountains of old tires, played out quarries, and hulking rusted out shipping containers. But she’s a sly one. Where Mr. Burtynsky minimizes the human presence in his compositions, the filmmaker goes right in for the close ups of young Chinese workers who seem to have become extensions of the machines they operate at mile-long conveyor belts clicking together components for the gizmos we all must have.
With or without context, watching wrecked lives, toxic pollution, and a very self-satisfied Shanghai real estate developer showing off her state-of-the-art mansion left me feeling queasy.
I am complicit in this destruction and I have no idea what to do with that.