Manufactured Landscapes

Canada 2006, 88 mins
Director: Jennifer Baichwal

+ intro by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky. Hosted by Maggi Hurt.

Edward Burtynsky: I had to cross some unknown territory through Pennsylvania, which happened to be one of the largest strip-mining areas in the United States. All of a sudden I was in this town called Frackville and I thought, ‘Something feels different here.’ I started to drive around the slag heaps and then finally stood in one spot. It was then I realised that as far as my eye could see, everything had been transformed. There was nothing natural left…

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.

Jennifer Baichwal: Manufactured Landscapes is a feature-length documentary on the world and work of renowned artist Edward Burtynsky. Burtynsky makes large-scale photographs of ‘manufactured landscapes’ – quarries, recycling yards, factories, mines, dams. He photographs civilisation’s materials and debris and raises all kinds of questions about ethics and aesthetics without trying to answer them.

The film follows Burtynsky to China as he travels the country photographing the evidence and effects of their massive industrial revolution. Sites such as the Three Gorges Dam, which is bigger by 50% than any other dam in the world and displaced over a million people, factory floors over a kilometre long, and the breathtaking scale of Shanghai’s urban renewal are subjects for his lens and our motion picture camera.

Shot in Super-16mm film, Manufactured Landscapes extends the narrative streams of Burtynsky’s photographs, allowing us to meditate on our profound impact on the planet and witness both the epicentres of industrial endeavour and the dumping grounds of its waste. What makes the photographs so powerful is his refusal in them to be didactic. We are all implicated here, they tell us: there are no easy answers. The film continues this approach of presenting complexity, without trying to reach simplistic judgements or reductive resolutions. In the process, it tries to shift our consciousness about the world and the way we live in it.
Production notes

By 1790, the Black Country, a once-wild landscape in the UK’s northern midlands, had become a maze of forges, collieries and ‘tall chimneys belching metallic vapours and at night lit by flames.’ Its pale inhabitants, appalled observers saw, were ragged in black, with streaming red eyes and hair stained green with copper. Thus historian Arthur Bryant’s vividly written snapshot of the first Industrial Revolution as it began to unleash the energy and miseries that made the British Empire and changed the world. Edward Burtynsky’s photographs – a different kind of history-writing altogether – catch the detail and the scale of another industrialising revolution, history taking its next turn, apparently transforming the fortunes of another, older empire: China’s, as its population of 1.3 (US) billion seeks to lurch from nine-tenths agrarian 30 years ago to seven-tenths urban (Beijing’s current plan). We see the vast interiors of factories; giant tips of reclaimed machine trash, imported from far-off nations to be recycled; we see titanic earthworks such as the Three Gorges Dam, a 17-year project involving the relocation of up to two million people; we see the emergence of great cities in new garb – Shanghai as a metropolis of real-estate deals and skyscrapers.

In a sense this is a photo collection opened up and brought to life, with commentary, behind-the-scenes fly-on-the-wall on the negotiation and aftermath of some of the shoots, and some input, overheard or via interview or official statement, from the human subjects, who feature as often as not as minute specks dwarfed by the man-made mountains behind them. Indeed Burtynsky and director Jennifer Baichwal’s main device is a kind of trompe l’oeil of scale, whether it’s starting with a scene then zooming out until you realise that the busy space you first looked at is all but lost in depths of the picture as a whole; or panning back further, till you see the entire picture on a gallery wall being peered at by punters; or cutting from a deserted city of rubble, about to be inundated as the dam is filled, to a pulsing neon city of the future, only to realise it’s an architect’s model; or showing an enormous yard full of shipping containers from the air, so that momentarily you don’t know if it’s a circuit board, or shelving, or art, or what size it is. And then there’s the striking opening scene, an eight-minute walking-pace wordless dolly across an endless factory floor – until you wonder if there isn’t a clever loop in the film…

Since the purpose is to unveil the interconnectedness of tiny, medium-sized, large and global – their relationships and mutual effects – the sense that you’re not actually getting all the information you need in order to know what to make of what you’re seeing feels less disingenuous than part of a dramatising game, rendering the invisible visible. And Burtynsky absolutely has a Ballardian eye for the incongruous, some vast machine shape out of its place and time: the most striking section is perhaps the briefest, when he focuses on Chittagong shipbreaking beach in Bangladesh, where huge rusting tankers sit stranded on otherwise naked mudflats, scavenged and dismantled by local teenagers. We’re told almost nothing about this set-up – except that it’s very poorly paid and very dangerous – but Burtynsky perhaps judges the force of the image more effective than any lecture about economics or sociology. The oddest thing, after all, about omnipresent globalisation is that globalisation is shipping by and large – and yet shipping is indeed culturally invisible these days, even more so than the notion of China as the world’s landfill, the detritus of our modernism the raw matter of their future, busily refashioned to be sold back to us before the oil vanishes (or else the climate).

Visually, the film is rich and subtle – Burtynsky finds an eerie beauty in the starkest, most poisoned, emptied vistas; what’s deathly here is also potent and haunting.
Mark Sinker, Sight and Sound, May 2008

Jennifer Baichwal has been directing and producing documentaries for 25 years. Among other films, installations and lens-based projects, she has made 10 feature documentaries which have played all over the world and won awards nationally and internationally. These features include: Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles (International Emmy); The Holier It Gets (Best Canadian and Best Cultural Film, Hot Docs); The True Meaning of Pictures (Best Arts Doc, Geminis); Manufactured Landscapes (Best Canadian Film, TIFF, Al Gore Reel Current Award); Act of God (opening night film, Hot Docs); Payback (Sundance); Watermark (Berlin, Best Canadian Film, TFCA, and Best Feature Doc, CSA); Long Time Running (TIFF Gala); and ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch (TIFF, Sundance, Berlin, Best Canadian Film, TFCA, and Best Feature Doc, CSA).

Most recently, Baichwal directed Into the Weeds: Dewayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company (2022). The documentary follows the story of groundskeeper Lee Johnson and his fight for justice against agrichemical giant Monsanto (now Bayer), the manufacturer of the weed killer Roundup. It won Best Film Testimony at Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.

Baichwal sits on the board of Swim Drink Fish Canada. She was a Director of the Board of the Toronto International Film Festival from 2016 – 2022.

Nicholas de Pencier is a documentary Director, Producer, and Director of Photography. Select early credits include Let It Come Down: The Life of Paul Bowles (International Emmy), The Holier It Gets (Best Canadian Doc, Hot Docs), The True Meaning of Pictures (Gemini, Best Arts), Hockey Nomad (Gemini, Best Sports), Manufactured Landscapes (TIFF, Best Canadian Feature; Genie, Best Doc), and Act of God (Hot Docs, Opening Night Gala). He was also the Producer and Director of Photography of Watermark (Special Presentation, TIFF & Berlin; Toronto Film Critics Award, Best Canadian Film; CSA, Best Documentary) and Black Code (TIFF), which he also directed. With Jennifer Baichwal, he is the Co-Director (and also DOP) of Long Time Running, a feature documentary on the Tragically Hip’s iconic Man Machine Poem tour from the summer of 2016, which premiered at TIFF 2017. The Anthropocene Project, de Pencier’s third collaboration with Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky, included a major touring exhibition which debuted simultaneously at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada, a feature documentary film which premiered at TIFF 2018, an art book published by Steidl, and an educational program in partnership with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society.

De Pencier’s video art installations include Watermark Cubed at Nuit Blanche (2014), Music Inspired by the Group of Seven (2015) with Rheostatics in Walker Court at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and Ice Forms, a video installation room as part of the Lawren Harris Exhibition at the AGO in the summer of 2016.

De Pencier’s latest projects have included producing and directing a 4-part documentary series chronicling the 1972 Canada/Russia hockey summit, Summit 72, which premiered on CBC in fall 2022, and producing the feature documentary Into the Weeds: Dewayne “Lee” Johnson vs. Monsanto Company (2022), which follows the story of groundskeeper Lee Johnson and his fight for justice against agrichemical giant Monsanto.

De Pencier has won awards for his cinematography including, most recently, Best Cinematography in a Feature Length Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards (2023).

Edward Burtynsky is regarded as one of the world’s most accomplished contemporary photographers. His remarkable photographic depictions of global industrial landscapes represent over 40 years of his dedication to bearing witness to the impact of human industry on the planet. Burtynsky’s photographs are included in the collections of over 80 major museums around the world, including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York; the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid; the Tate Modern in London, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in California.

Burtynsky was born in 1955 of Ukrainian heritage in St. Catharines, Ontario. He received his BAA in Photography/Media Studies from Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) in 1982, and has since received both an Alumni Achievement Award (2004) and an Honorary Doctorate (2007) from his alma mater. He is still actively involved in the university community, and sits on the board of directors for The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre).

Exhibitions include: Anthropocene (2018) at the Art Gallery of Ontario and National Gallery of Canada (international touring exhibition); Water (2013) at the New Orleans Museum of Art and Contemporary Art Center in Louisiana (international touring exhibition); Oil (2009) at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (five-year international touring show), China (toured internationally from 2005-2008); Manufactured Landscapes at the National Gallery of Canada (toured from 2003-2005); and Breaking Ground produced by the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography (toured from 1988-1992). Burtynsky’s visually compelling works are currently being exhibited in solo and group exhibitions around the globe.

As an active lecturer on photographic art, Burtynsky’s speaking engagements have been held at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa; the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; George Eastman House in Rochester, New York; the Canadian Center for Architecture in Montréal; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Moses Znaimer’s ideacity and at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) in Toronto; and the TED conference in Monterey, California. His images appear in numerous periodicals each year including Canadian Art, Art in America, The Smithsonian Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, Flash Art, Blind Spot, Art Forum, Saturday Night, National Geographic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Walrus, FT Weekend, and Vogue.

Burtynsky’s distinctions include the inaugural TED Prize (which he shared with Bono and Robert Fischell), the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, the Rencontres d’Arles Outreach Award, the Roloff Beny Photography Book Award, and the Rogers Best Canadian Film Award. He sits on the board of directors for CONTACT: Toronto’s International Photography Festival and The Image Centre (formerly Ryerson Image Centre). In 2006 he was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of Canada and in 2008 he was awarded the International Center of Photography’s Infinity Award for Art. In 2018 Burtynsky was named Photo London’s Master of Photography and the Mosaic Institute’s Peace Patron. In 2019 he was the recipient of the Arts & Letters Award at the Canadian Association of New York’s annual Maple Leaf Ball and the 2019 Lucie Award for Achievement in Documentary Photography. In 2020 he was awarded a Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship and in 2022 was honoured with the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award by the World Photography Organization. Most recently he was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and was named the 2022 recipient for the annual Pollution Probe Award. Burtynsky currently holds eight honorary doctorate degrees.

Burtynsky is represented by: Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto; Paul Kuhn Gallery, Calgary; Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco; Sundaram Tagore Gallery, New York and Hong Kong; Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York; Flowers Gallery, London; Admira Photography, Milan; Galerie Springer, Berlin; and Weinstein Hammons Gallery, Minneapolis.

Maggi Hurt is a member of BFI Southbank Cinemas team.

Director: Jennifer Baichwal
©/Presented in association with: TV Ontario
Presented by: Mercury Films Inc., Foundry Films Inc.
Presented in co-production with: National Film Board of Canada
Produced with the financial participation of: Musagetes Foundation, Rogers Documentary Fund, Canadian Television and Cable Production Fund, CTF - License Fee Program, Telefilm Canada - Equity Investment Program, Téléfilm Canada
Produced with the assistance/participation of: Canadian Film & Video Tax Credit
Producers (National Film Board of Canada): Peter Starr, Gerry Flahive
Produced by: Nick de Pencier, Daniel Iron, Jennifer Baichwal
Commissioning Editor (TVO): Rudy Buttignol
Line Producer: Paul Scherzer
China Line Producer: Noah Weinzweig
Associate Producers: Jeff Powis, Lukas Lackner
Office of Edward Burtynsky (China Shoot Producer): Noah Weinzweig
Office of Edward Burtynsky (Production Manager): Marcus Schubert
Office of Edward Burtynsky (Wish Evolver, TED Prize): Anna Withrow
Office of Edward Burtynsky (Arts Administrator): Karen Machtinger
Office of Edward Burtynsky (General Manager, Toronto Image Works): Jeannie Baxter
Production Accountant: Stephen Paniccia
Production Co-ordinator: Sarah Christie
Daily Production Co-ordinator: Kerryn Ciracovitch
China Production Co-ordinator: Maggie Tang
Film & Video Post Facility: Technicolor Creative Services (Montréal)
Audio Post Facility: Tattersall Sound & Picture
Office Manager: Christine Hobson
Production Assistants: Ryan J. Noth, Brooke Hanson, Ted Hobson
Research Assistant: Chelsea McMullan
Archival Footage Directed by: Jeff Powis
Director of Photography: Peter Mettler
Brooklyn Museum Cinematography: Nick de Pencier
California Aerial Cinematography: Noah Weinzweig
Camera Assistant: John Price
Motion Designer: Stephanie Dudley
Editor: Roland Schlimme
Assistant Editor: Avril Jacobson
Assistant Editors (Daily): Cort Bremner, Joseph Doane
Sound Design: Peter Mettler, Roland Schlimme, David Rose, Jane Tattersall, Dan Driscoll
Location Sound Recordist: Sanjay Mehta
Re-recording Mixer: Lou Solakofski
Dialogue Editor: Jane Tattersall
Effects Editor: David Rose
Archival Footage Courtesy of: Restless Pictures
Translators: Lanny Dong Zhi Ying, Longyu Tong, Luo Li

Canada 2006©
88 mins

This work contains flashing images which may affect viewers who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy.
This is a nightclub scene 1 hour 14 minutes into the film. Duration less than 2 minutes.

These screenings coincide with BURTYNSKY: Extraction/Abstraction at

In cultural partnership with

Fri 16 Feb 18:15 (+ panel discussion); Wed 21 Feb 20:40
Manufactured Landscapes
Fri 16 Feb 21:00 (+ intro by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky); Tue 20 Feb 20:40
Sat 17 Feb 18:10 (+ Q&A with filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky); Fri 23 Feb 20:40

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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