I caught two other environment-relevant films while at Sundance that should be of interest to Gristmill readers, and there are a few more I missed that you should be on the lookout for as well.
First is Manufactured Landscapes, a film by Canadian director Jennifer Baichwal that follows renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky is widely known for his stark photographs of landscapes as altered by mankind — quarries, mines, factories, vast e-waste recycling yards. The photographs are beautiful, though completely disturbing, illustrating the ways that humans have changed the very nature of the world and of our relationship to our surroundings.
In this film rendering of his photos, the director adds a narrative stream to the images, connecting the works and contemplating their relationship to each other and to us. The film focuses in particular on his work in China, highlighting the complexities of our relationship to materials and to each other — globally and locally. It opens with a nearly 10-minute-long tracking shot down the endless rows of workbenches in a factory that creates irons and other familiar household products. The camera’s ability to capture the magnitude of this landscape in both image and time adds a dynamic that Burtynsky’s photos alone can’t. But neither the photos nor the film offers any easy answers about the subject matter. The film is a meditation, forcing viewers to rethink the very nature of nature.
Best line heard while walking out of the film: “I fell asleep. But it was great.”
The second film that I actually got a chance to see was Wonders Are Many, a film about an opera about nuclear power. Yes, really. Directed by Jon Else, this piece follows composer John Adams and playwright Peter Sellers as they develop a musical rendering of the life of Robert Oppenheimer, creator of the atom bomb. The opera focuses mostly on the process of creating the bomb – Oppenheimer and a bunch of 20-something military guys and their wives, out in the desert, trying to figure out how to blow stuff up. But the film weaves in the back story on Dr. Atomic between footage of the actors rehearsing the musical numbers, revealing a man plagued by patriotism, ethical obligations to the rest of the world, and his own ginormous brain. After spending years constructing the bomb, he would spend many more trying to contain the spread of nuclear technology, and carrying the moral weight of a man who had figured out the science of killing millions of people in a single second. Sounds depressing, right? Well, it is, but it’s also hilarious — Sellers is a hoot as he tries to get his actors to channel the right emotions in their song and choreography, and the whole idea of an opera about nuclear power is genius.
Best line heard walking out of it: “I wish I liked opera.”
I also wanted to see The Unforeseen, a film that is apparently “a meditation on the destruction of the natural world and the American Dream as it falls victim to the cannibalizing forces of unchecked development.” This lady saw it, and has this to say.