Monday, September 23, 2019

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

Anthropocene. Furnaces in the world's largest heavy metal smelter in Norilsk.

Anthropocene. Aerial shot of lithium evaporation ponds in Atacama desert, Chile.

Anthropocene. A Carrara marble quarry.
Anthropocene. Dandora landfill in Kenya, East Africa's largest garbage dump.

Anthropocene. A Berezniki potash mine.

Anthropocene. Burning 10.000 ivory tusks in Kenya.

Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (2018)
Nature / Society
Theme: Saving the World
Country: Canada
Director: Edward Burtynsky, Nicholas De Pencier, Jennifer Baichwal
Screenplay: Jennifer Baichwal
Production: Nicholas De Pencier / Mercury Films
Duration: 87 min
Rating: 7
    Language: English, Italian, Cantonese, German, Russian
+ Kikuju, Suahili, Yoruba
    Subtitles: partly English
    Distribution: NonStop Entertainment
    Print source: NonStop Entertainment
    Cinematography: Nicholas De Pencier
    Editing: Roland Schlimme
Collaboration: Greenpeace
Helsinki International Film Festival (HIFF) Love & Anarchy.
Introduced by Juuso Jalkanen (Greenpeace).
Viewed at Bio Rex, Helsinki, 23 Sep 2019

Jennie Kermode (quoted by HIFF): "Welcome to Anthropocene. Beyond the Holocene, this is an age in which the condition of the biosphere is heavily influenced by human actions. Jennifer Baichwal’s film sets out to explore it, to make us cognisant of the scale of our own endeavours and to show us how our efforts, our technology, our ambition might also drive us to find solutions."

"In one scene, we see the Atacama desert transformed into a alien landscape by pools of lithium being harvested from beneath its surface. In another, a mountain of burning ivory reflects the industrial scale of elephant slaughter driven by the demand for ivory."

"Inside a workshop, an artisan carves hundreds of tiny, praying figures into the side of a tusk. It is, he explains, mammoth ivory. Climate change is causing glaciers to melt. Within them lie the graves of the Pleistocene giants. Their tusks are bigger, provide better material, and are far easier to obtain. He can satisfy his customers without the need to kill."

"To reach a better future, we have first to imagine it. Anthropocene elucidates our monstrous deeds in a way that is observational rather than condemnatory. It invites us to recognise the magnitude of what we have done and, thereby, to understand what we can do if we take action, if we choose a different fate."
Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

Wikipedia: "The Anthropocene Project is a multidisciplinary body of work from collaborators Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal. Combining art, film, virtual reality, augmented reality, and scientific research, the project investigates human influence on the state, dynamic and future of the Earth. Anthropocene means a new era of geological time where human activity is the driving force behind environmental and geological change." (Wikipedia)

AA: The Helsinki International Film Festival observed the day of the UN Climate Action Summit with a screening of a remarkable film called Anthropocene: The Human Epoch.

It is the third documentary film created by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, following Manufactured Landscapes (2006) and Watermark (2013) which I now look forward to seeing as well.

The film supports the claim that the geological epoch has changed on the geologic time scale (GTS). In 2000 Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer proposed the term Anthropocene because of the fundamental changes brought about by human activity. The proposal has not been approved or adopted by the scientific community.

The scope of the film is global and colossal. We visit the worlds' largest heavy metal smelter in Norilsk, the most polluted city in Russia. We witness the industrial scale of marble mining in Carrara. We see Dantesque landscapes of death at lithium evaporation ponds in Atacama desert. In a chapter called Terraforming we see changed landscapes in Germany where villages are razed to make way for coalmines. The biggest excavators are in use. In Canada primordial forests are felled in clearcutting. Forest machines keep getting bigger and better. In a chapter titled Technofossils we visit a monumental landfill in Kenya, frequented by scavengers including humans and marabou storks. The chapter Anthroturbation takes us to the biggest tunnel in the world, the Gotthard base tunnel in Switzerland. In the chapter Boundary Limits we visit the eerie Berezniki potash mine in Russia. In China sea levels are controlled by huge seawalls in Shengli and Gudong. At Batu Bolong Coral Reef in Komodo, Indonesia, coral reefs are endangered. Human activity is also causing the sixth major extinction of species.

Repeatedly against the marvels of the natural world we observe increasingly monstrous machines. This is a horror film, and the monsters are us. But this film is not nihilistic, cynical or pessimistic. A recurrent feature is a joyous presence of people celebrating: on Norilsk Day, at the Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos, at the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, at the grand ivory burning event in Kenya. These sequences might have been staged in a darkly ironic way, but I feel that they express a life-affirming potential that we now need more than ever.

Visually the film is extraordinary, photographed by Edward Burtynsky. The film has autonomous value as a work of art, but the art is inseparable from the mission. There is a careful balance of the grandeur of nature and the desolation of its destruction. The visual experience is about nature vs. urbanization, the natural vs. the mechanical.

Very often the view is from a high angle, including an extreme high angle, often in aerial shots. We get the big picture. Things are put into perspective.

The film-makers revive an early cinema device: the phantom ride. We speed through the teeming Lagos on a motorcycle. And we take a TGV through the Gotthard Base Tunnel, an experience worthy of the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Films like Anthropocene: The Human Epoch bring a new dimension to a term of classical aesthetics, the sublime, which was central before Modernism and which has been marginalized or ignored since. The classical sublime means "awesome, overwhelming, transcending the limits", including experiences such as thunderstorms, earthquakes, wars, love, birth, death, God, space, eternity and infinity. As an aesthetical experience Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is about the destruction of the sublime in the nature. (Example: magnificent Sumatran tigers yawning at the London Zoo. The species is critically endangered).

The cinematography is impressive and grandiose. It flaunts its digital character. Nature footage looks denatured, sometimes pointedly so, including in the Batu Bolong Coral Reef sequence.

Minna Nurmi (HIFF):

12 000 vuotta kestänyt holoseenin aikakausi on päättynyt ja elämme ihmisen mukaan nimettyä antroposeenin aikakautta. Ryhmä tutkijoita haluaa osoittaa, että ihmisen toiminnasta johtuvat muutokset ympäristössämme ovat niin merkittäviä, että puhutaan uudesta geologisesta ajanjaksosta.

Pääosaa tuoreessa dokumentissa näyttelee epätodelliseksi veistokseksi muokattu maisema. Kamera on kiertelevän korppikotkan silmä, joka hahmottelee ihmiskunnan peruuttamattomien jälkien mittakaavaa eri puolilla maailmaa.

Atacaman aavikolla Chilessä värillisten nesteiden täyttämät kemikaalialtaat muistuttavat Mondrianin maalauksia. Täältä kännyköidemme akkujen raaka-aineet tulevat. Maailman kookkaimmat konehirviöt raivaavat saksalaiskaupungin tilalle valtavaa hiiliavolouhosta. Kenialaiselle kaatopaikalle on sijoitettu Itä-Afrikan suurin kasa roskaa. Sen seasta elantoa etsivät niin korppikotkat kuin ihmisetkin.

Järjettömän tuhon ja kauneuden ristiriita kiteytyy paitsi elokuvan visuaalisesti upeissa kuvissa, myös sen tarkkasilmäisissä havainnoissa inhimillisestä kulttuurista, jossa asiat näyttävät vieraantuneen alkuperäisestä merkityksestään. Kun norsunluun käyttö taide-esineiden raaka-aineena kielletään, tilalle kaivetaan mammutin luuta Siperian ikiroudasta. Kun meren pinta nousee, keskitetään voimavarat muutoksen hillitsemisen sijaan jättimuurin rakentamiseen

Minna Nurmi (HIFF)

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