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Manufactured Landscapes: The Art of Edward Burtynsky
The documentary Manufactured Landscapes spotlights the work of Edward Burtynsky, a Canadian photographer who’s best known for his large-scale images of quarries, oilfields, and waste dumps—the detritus of modern industrial life. Today’s landscape, Burtynsky says in the film, “is the one that we change, that we disrupt, in pursuit of progress.” The photographers and filmmakers effectively show the linkages between the mining of raw materials, their fabrication into consumer products, and their eventual disposal as waste. An ongoing challenge of Burtynsky’s imagery is that it portrays objectively ugly locations with such verve that it’s hard to not also see their beauty, even in such grim places as a ship-breaking operation in Bangladesh or a city being demolished, brick by brick, by its residents before it is to be flooded by China’s giant Three Gorges Dam. Burtynsky tells the filmmakers he’s trying to neither glorify nor damn his subjects; he’s simply trying to show the world as it is. One of the film’s most compelling moments documents this tightrope walk. At a Chinese coal facility, officials are initially averse to allowing Burtynsky to take pictures, fearing bad publicity. But after being assured that the photographer creates beautiful works, they relent. The resulting image lives up to this promise, capturing massive, rippled piles of coal stretching to the horizon. Though the film is generally respectful, it’s hard not to characterize the documentary’s opening as a sly attempt by the filmmakers to one-up their subject. It begins with a hypnotic, eight-minute long tracking shot, with the camera moving ceaselessly leftward in an enormous Chinese factory filled with employees at work. The film is available through Aug. 4 at nga.gov. Free. —Louis Jacobson
Fagara is both a Szechuan spice and the name of a 2019 Heiward Mak Hei-yan family drama. Fagara and Twilight’s Kiss are the two remaining films showing online through July 31 as part of the National Museum of Asian Art’s 25th annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival. Fagara is the story of a young professional Hong Kong travel agent, Acacia, played by Cantopop star Sammi Cheng Sau-man, who suddenly receives news of her father’s death—then discovers from his cell phone that she has two half-sisters. One sibling, Branch, is a Taiwanese professional pool player, and the other, Cherry, is a China-based fashion seller and influencer. Acacia also soon discovers that her father’s hot pot restaurant is in debt and that it will be up to her to pay the bills and either run the place or sell it. Fagara’s screenplay is drawn from the 2011 novel My Spicy Love by Hong Kong romance author Amy Cheung. Although Cheung’s novels are sometimes stereotyped as “chick lit,” others point to elements in them that go beyond formula, and the movie largely does so as well. While the film touches on Acacia’s relationships with two suitors and the attempts of Cherry’s grandmother to find her a husband, the focus is on finding ways to numb familial pain and to forgive, via food and communication. The movie offers just enough humor to balance out the serious stuff and occasional mawkishness. The seemingly composed Acacia’s resentment of her late father (played by Kenny Bee) is quickly on view, but the funeral scene also establishes that she, like her half-sisters, never really knew her dad well: Acacia arranges a Taoist funeral, but in the middle of the ceremony, she is quietly informed by another relative that her father was Buddhist. And while we initially see the three sisters as very different, soon, in a manner that mostly moves beyond cliché, the three bond and work together to find their dad’s hot pot recipe. The film is available through July 31 at asia.si.edu. Free. —Steve Kiviat