Manufactured Landscapes

Edward Burtynsky, an acclaimed Canadian photographer who went to China to take pictures of the Chinese industrial landscapes, took with him a documentary film crew. What he and director Jennifer Baichwal, who was recently awarded with being the 2012 Canadian Eco Hero by Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival, produced when they came out is one of the most stunning and eye opening experiences ever put to film. Manufactured Landscapes (2007) is a remarkable film that combines surreal images of a massive industry’s impact on nature with shocking images of the effects on a coerced labor force struggling to survive.

Very little information about what’s happening in China is getting out to the rest of the world but there are some resourceful people from Canada who were able to get in with film cameras and take some extraordinary footage of the catastrophic environmental devastation on a scale that’s never been seen before; from mountains of toxic electronic waste material seeping into the water supplies, to the destruction of whole cultural towns and villages.

The Chinese government is so sensitive to criticism, that the documentary crew was followed around by government officials and told what they may and may not film but they sometimes found ways to secretly film areas that are off limits. Although Edward Burtynsky is careful not to politicize his images or give any opinion about what he sees, you get a sense throughout the film that there is a manipulation of the population at work to destroy its own heritage for the sake of being modern and competitive.

In their pursuit of progress, families are torn apart, their children sent to work far away in factories where they grow up in cubicles for years on their own to help the family survive while their lands are being taken away with little compensation. The elderly, who are attached to their homes and stubbornly refuse to leave, get no support. All this is photographed in mesmerizing shots of surreal landscapes and Orwellian working conditions.

China’s industrial revolution is leaving massive scars on the country’s landscape as well as its citizens. The government’s radical plans to modernize China have caused the largest migration of people within the country from rural ancestral lands to worker factories the size of cities with extremely harsh working and living conditions.

China is paying a huge environmental and human cost for its new status in the world as the new economic powerhouse. Whole generations of young Chinese are being forced out of their home villages to work in dangerous and substandard conditions to produce cheap products for the whole world. Whole districts are being dismantled brick by brick to fuel the new vision of a modern China. 
Almost no one outside the country has any idea of the scale of suffering and destruction as the government keeps a tight lid on any information that might be seen as having a negative impact on its plans. Anyone who complains or attempts to expose the horrible conditions is quickly silenced by brutal means. Some well-known Chinese artists who have connections to the West have been able to expose the government’s brutality to a certain extent. Ai Weiwei is one such person working from inside the country to expose the extraordinary lengths the government of China will go to, to keep its people from speaking out, at great personal risk to his own safety.

There are a handful of films and documentaries available that attempt to expose the human and environmental cost of progress in China; Shower (2000), Up the Yangtze (2008), Last Train Home (2009) and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012). For more information read ‘Migrant workers, women and China’s modernization on screen’.



Tope Olofin said...

It is very sad and sickening when families are torn apart and if that isn't enough, but having your heritage destroyed all for the sake of being modern and competitive is beyond unthinkable.

Thanks for the enlightenment. I must confess that I too was ignorant of such happenings.

But I still can't help but ask the question why?

Geek Girl said...

This is just sad in so many ways.

Becc said...

I agree with Tope and Geek Girl. I was totally unaware and feel for the people and the determent it is doing to our earth.

JP said...

Amnesty International has recently reported that forced evictions and land seizures are causing people to protest by setting themselves on fire. At least 41 people have set themselves on fire between 2009 and 2011 and is becoming the biggest source of friction between China's people and government authorities. The rising number of people being forced out of their homes is probably higher than anyone knows.

Henry Johnson said...

Interesting how mankind can be the prey and predator all at the same time. both sad and disappointing.

Kevin Surbaugh said...

I have to agree with Geek Girl. It is sad on so many levels. It makes one thankful to God that we live in America where we have freedoms. It also makes you wonder why some in government want to move to move us to a similar socialist government that would have government minders following film crews like this around everywhere to make sure they don't film anywhere that would embarrase the government.

Susan Cooper said...

I worry what will happen when China finally wakes up to what it has done to its culture, people and the environment. Ultimately it will have a huge affect on us all. I will be going in search of this film.