Friday, February 19, 2010

"I am Cuba". A strange kind of title for a movie. I had visions of some sort of travel dialogue where I could see some of the bright, sunny history of this island getaway.
Instead, I find myself watching a dark, revealing expose' of Cuba's historic turmoil; the ugly, seldom-seen underbelly of an emerging country.
Cuba's story is told in several vinettes, in "first person" style. For some reason, which I haven't figured out yet, the narrator of this movie speaks in Russian, while we listen to the people speaking in their native language, and English subtitles try to keep up with the action. It's very confusing at times, but it's fairly easy to follow the story. The images are raw, revealing and "in your face" involving.
We see this country evolving through the eyes of the poor, in particular, how some of the women had been exploited to help their families. survive. The 50's nightclub scenes showed us how the Americans came to Cuba and used it and its people as their unsavory, underground escape from regular social rules and responsibilities. This social abuse of the Cuban people paralleled the initial invasion by Christopher Columbus in the 1400's.
We see how the farmers were treated; how they didn't own their own land and were not allowed to reap the benefits of their own sweat and tears.
We are brought amongst a new generation of educated university students who want to free their people from their slavery by others. The style of photography brings us face to face, not only with the characters in this story, but right into the center of their struggles with the government officials but also their own conscience as they press forward in their quest.
In all these vinettes, we are taken much deeper into the daily lives and struggles of the Cubans as they try to escape from the pressures of outside groups with their own greedy plans. The fact that the film was shot in black and white, makes a statement right of the bat, letting the viewer know that this is not going to be your regular travelogue. The narrator remains strangely calm throughout the film, letting the viewer respond to what's happening on the screen.
Cuba's story is not over yet. Even as our own generation gazes into the dark past of this south sea island paradise, the Cuban people are still struggling with a dated, failing and tarnished vision of what the people really need. This was a very revealing film and has made a changed my view of this country forever. Perhaps, like many other people who like to get away for a winter holiday, I wasn't prepared to see where this island has come from. I just wanted to go and enjoy what they had to offer and come home again. But this film has shown that these people have a history, and all you have to do is look a little closer to see that they have paid a dear price to get where they are today. Unfortunately, their struggle is not over yet.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I signed up to see "Manufactured Landscapes" expecting to see more of the same kind of scenery-type shots that I like to take myself. I wasn't expecting to see man-made landscapes with such stunning color, beautiful composition, open vastness of space, and man's utter mutilation of his environment in his quest to modernize his lifestyle, at any cost.
We take our progress as a country so much for granted, that we don't ask the hard questions regarding the cost that we are paying to get there. This movie really showed me how small our planet is, and that everything that we take from the earth must be returned to it in some other metamorphic state; usually landfill garbage and recycling. One man's garbage is another man's raw materials.
We can only see where we've come from when we look at where others are starting from. It seems that every other day we are hearing how China is becoming the next super power in the world and the largest potential economic boom on the planet. But we don't realize how much it is costing everyone else in environmental damage as China desperately tries to play "catch up" with the rest of the world, at any cost.
Ed Burtynsky's images not only show us the emerging "new" industrialized Chinese workforce, but also gives us a glimpse at our own rudimentary and ugly past as we struggled to modernize our own society. With the largest population in the world, China is going through severe growing pains that it can hardly keep up with. The city of Shanghai alone is estimated to grow at a rate of 3 - 5 million people PER YEAR for the next few years. It is the fastest growing city in the WORLD! The real cost to the Chinese is shown in its culture, its living standards, and in the faces of its people. In some of his images, Ed Burtynski has captured the expressions of people who are the workforce where robotics and machines rule in the Western world. In some cases, their expressions are as hollow and lifeless as the machines that will eventually replace this vast army of human labour. China is not the only country exposed in this documentary by Jennifer Baichwal. Similar situations are also shown playing out in Bangeldesh, and in the heart of the U.S.A. as well. In his work, Ed has tried to remain neutral in his portrayal of this awakening giant of a country, leaving the viewer to come to their own soul-searching conclusions.
Landscape photography is one of my favorite subjects to shoot, and Ed's ability to draw starkly beautiful images from his subject matter is a testament to his talent. It's the WAY he lays out his observation of man's blind destruction of his planet for the sake of "getting ahead", that exposes our own recklessness and disregard for the very ground we depend on. Everyone should see this remarkable video.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Movie Week Extravaganza! Popcorn (from the microwave!), chocolate bars, uncomfortable chairs (for watching movies from, anyway) and last but not least . . . inspirational movies for the budding photography student to take in!
Well, "ONE HOUR PHOTO", with Robin Williams, was not the way to start visualizing your new career as a professional shooter. Kudos to Williams for a great performance and for stepping out of his universally-accepted role as a loose cannon comedian. This time round, he's just plain creepy, reclusive, and in a pitifully sad state.
Here is a lonely man who buries himself in his small corner of the world, or should I say the "lab", and only perks up when he interacts with his favorite customers. What he's lacking in personal relationships with friends or family, he makes up, in his mind. Williams harmless fantasies grow out of proportion AND out of control as he imagines "moving in" with his favorite family as Uncle Sy.
When he discovers an adultrous affair within his newly adopted family, he takes it personally, and "exposes" the unappreciative jerk of a husband and his new fling in a beautifully executed plan of mixed up customer prints. Things spiral right out of control after this point, and it gets pretty messy.
As I thought about Robin Williams' character, it appears to me that there are a lot of Sy Parrishes in our world, in our city, heck, maybe even closer than that. These are the loners, the people who keep to themselves. They don't get too close to others. The live in a sheltered or self- restricting world unto themselves, but come out of their shells at home, where nobody can see them. They live out their alter egos through movies, video games, the internet, and become someone completely different.
Sometimes these alternate egos or characters rise too close to the surface, and they take them outside into the real world. These are likely the people who shoot other people on the street, steal cars and lead the police on high-speed chases, dress like their favorite movie heroes (live or fictional). They begin to "bend" the rules to suit themselves and start to dabble into areas that are socially unacceptable, thinking that no one will find out. It begs the question; how much of OUR lives are made up of small escapes into fantasy that we hope no one will come across? Who tells you when you're about to cross the line and step into the dark side of society?
How long would Sy Parrish continue on with his little scheme of stalking the Yorkin family if things kept going on without a hitch? What stops us from walking down a path that, initially, seems harmless, but has no guarantees along the way. Can you stop yourself or will it take something or someone else to bring you back?