China has now become an impossibly fertile ground for documentarians, sociologists and artists searching for a ready metaphor for any number of globalization’s myriad conequences. It’s a blank canvas of almost interminable width upon which cultural seismologists monitor every aspect of its accelerated growth — as if a Dickensian age of industrialization was playing itself out on CNN.
This doc is about the work of photgarapher Edward Burtynsy, who captures transformed land masses all over the world from nickel mines in Ontario to oil fields in Bangladesh. But it is in China that his fascination with transformed landscapes moves from aesthetic curiosity to moral imperative. Imagine a companion piece to Jia Zhang Ke’s The World, but in place of awed romanticized ambivalence, we find a sort of horrifed fascination with the scale of flattened human endeavour. It’s both a micro and a macro portrait, showing us whole villages transformed with a bird’s eye view, then the shades of personal despair within. One scene of a worker too nervous to speak extemporaneously is particularly striking. When she reverts to a verbatim oration of her company’s goals told in neo-revolutionary speak, the extent of the damage to the individual is sadly apparent.
Opens June 22 at Film Forum