Edward Burtynsky has been acclaimed as one of Canada's most respected photographers. His specialty is photographs of global industrial landscapes, and they have been showcased in 15 major museums around the world. In a statement, Burtynsky talks about his explorations:
"Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.
These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire a chance at good living yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times."
In Manufactured Landscapes director Jennifer Baichwal and cinematographer Peter Mettler accompany Burtynsky as he travels through industrial China where nature is being aggressively transformed. The incredible opening shot tracks through a gigantic factory where thousands of workers are busy at their stations. Other scenes show individuals hunched over tables doing intricate jobs being pushed to increase their speed and efficiency.
The filmmakers visit the site of the Three Gorges Dam (the largest ever built by human beings); three cities were leveled to make way for it, displacing a million people. Then we move on the Shanghai, one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Here high rises and skyscrapers are replacing smaller dwellings. Chinese leaders envision a brave new society where 70% of the country will be urban and only 30% rural. That will take a lot of oil and coal, and that means further destruction of the planet.
One of the most staggering sequences in this excellent documentary shows us entire Chinese cities centered around the recycling of electronic waste from the United States and other Western countries. Toxic metals from discarded computers, cell phones, and other machines are seeping into the water table and causing grave problems.
Special DVD features include additional scenes with audio commentary by director Jennifer Baichwal; Al Gore and Baichwal at the Nashville Film Festival; Edward Burtynsky photo gallery with audio commentary by the artist; video discussion with Baichwal and Burtynsky; and a video interview with cinematographer/collaborator Peter Mettler.