Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Author: Harrison Evans

Damnation Film Response

The documentary film Damnation by Travis Rummel and Ben Knight looks into the large dams of the United States and the effect they have on the river ecosystems. Released in 2014, it highlights the problems of the old dams but also explains how removing them significantly helps the environment there. As the film notes in the beginning, it was financed by Patagonia, which helped give it a higher budget and opportunities. This is one of its weaknesses however, as defined by the class. The documentary is composed of many shots of actual dams, interviews, and hand-held camera work. It is most definitely an advocacy documentary because it presents an issue with a clear statement on where the film stands. Ben Knight is also taking part in the documentary and so it becomes participatory, along with performative since he is in the story as well. Though some people disagreed, the film allowed unaware people to learn some information about the problem and also show how it can be fixed.

As one would imagine when watching a film about dams, the film is essentially entirely all shots of dams. The film is composed of beautiful shots along with interviews that, for the most part, help enlighten the viewer even more as well as provide some humor. The strongest point is definitely the quality of the shots; compared to Gaslands, this film is cinematic and it makes it appear more calm. I can understand how the cinematography was utilized for a unique purpose in each film, but I prefer a more cinematic shooting style. A weakness that the class pointed out is that the film is produced by Patagonia, yet I found that there was almost no reference to Patagonia other than the “disclaimer” in the beginning of the film. The one shot of Ben Knight with his RED camera in the woods was unnecessary, but a 4 second shot doesn’t always ruin a film. Most of the films viewed in class are effective in conveying a message and showing the audience how they can start to think about change. Damnation very clearly outlined the problem that dams make, and at the end it was a hopeful ending. It wasn’t entirely oblivious or too hopeful, but it didn’t make you depressed that there actually was no solution.


Since I personally really enjoyed Damnation, particularly the cinematography, I had to try and see my classmates’ perspectives because while they also liked the cinematography, they didn’t think it was an effective film. In relation to Manufactured Landscapes, I thought the advertising in this film was very minimal, mainly the reference to Patagonia in the beginning and the shots of the RED camera. Manufactured Landscapes was completely about a photographer and showed his work, but I don’t think people will react to it the same way. With the great cinematography, I was able to think about what was being said more than how much I disliked the footage, like with Gaslands. Overall, I think the film is effective for certain people and does convey information, but some might be less impressed with the product placement and also a limited output of information.

Waste Land Film Response

Waste Land is a British-Brazilian documentary by Lucy Walker about Vik Muniz and his work as an artist. It was released in 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival and went on to win many awards. Vik travels around the world making art and this film concentrated on how he created a series using garbage. He collaborated with trash pickers at the largest landfill in the world, Jardim Gramacho, and tried to show the world their struggles while helping these people. This film is similar to Manufactured Landscapes because it shows his work and his process, but it feels different because it is filled with people and their interactions, giving it a more human feeling. It has to be said however, that it still promotes Vik Muniz because he explicitly says he wants to do his next series with garbage, and it makes the viewer wonder if he genuinely wants to help these people or is just doing it for the film and publicity.

The film is structured around Vik and the friendships he makes with the trash pickers. On his initial journey to Jardim Gramacho, he takes photos of various random people there. He also captures them on camera. Later, a few of these people return to help Vik create his art as his models and assistants. I believe he picked the people with a good personality and story to play into viewer’s emotions and draw empathy. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but something I think happened because he ignores many of the other trash pickers. Compared to Burtynsky’s film, this film was filled with emotion and humor because of the people in it. It was definitely

more enjoyable and I also think it had a more pronounced impact. In terms of which documentary style is better to either promote or display, Waste Land is a better example.

While Vik has to be credited for helping these people escape the landfills for a while and getting them money, he also promotes himself and the film makes him seem like a savior. I believe the real hero of the film is Tiaõ due to his work before the film and also after. He is working to save people from working in the landfill their whole life and also trying to help raise awareness about garbage. Trying to prevent garbage reaching the landfill will help lead to it shutting down, which it eventually did. He also wanted to help educate the workers so that after it closed, they would be able to go into the world prepared. Though Vik was very important and raising awareness and profits for them, Tiaõ did all the hard work. I’m not saying that Vik’s art isn’t hard for him to do, but it isn’t the same as the work Tiaõ has to do.

I thought this film was good to watch because on the surface it seemed very good overall but once you started to look into it you could see some flaws and raise some questions. This leads to good discussions and more awareness about the problems in the film. It didn’t tell the viewer there was a problem and then put solutions at the end, rather it told the story of the fight that people go through every day. It also was a social commentary about consumerism because if we didn’t buy all the things we don’t need and throw away, there wouldn’t be giant landfills. It was eye opening and makes you think how our society evolved into what it is today.

Manufactured Landscapes Film Response

The documentary film Manufactured Landscapes by Jennifer Baichwal highlights the expansion of human technology and the industry with the effects it has on the natural world. The film was released in 2006 by Zeitgeist Films. It does so by following the photographer Edward Burtynsky and documenting his work. There are many shots of Burtynsky taking the actual photographs, complimented by the actual still photographs captured on Super-16mm film. His photos are of landscapes that have been drastically changed due to human waste and advancements, such as garbage dumps, old ship yards, and factories. The film is very observational because the subject is the landscapes but also Burtynsky. While people are asked to be moved and such throughout the film, it is Burtynsky who asks, and Baichwal merely captures the result on camera. It also has tones of an expository documentary, but it has limited voice- over, trying to show the audience rather than tell. It also leaves a very vague intention and feeling of what to do next.

The film is structured around the journey of Burtynsky through China to various locations, where he is shown taking photographs. The film often transitions by showing a photo and zooming out to illustrate the scale of the prints. It also enables the viewer to see how Burtynsky saw his subject and how the photo turned out. His photos are usually quite detailed and do show how the world has become very industrialized. The biggest strength of the film is the long opening shot of the factory workers. The slow, tracking shot amazes the viewer with the

length of the factory. Except for this shot though, there weren’t any other shots that stood out. It was an average documentary in terms of how it was filmed. Due to less than interesting film techniques, it seemed to drag on much longer than the runtime of 1:30 would usually seem. Other weaknesses include the fact that it is barely informative; I could’ve learned more from reading a few articles and looking at photos or videos than watching this film. It seemed more of an advertisement for Burtynsky than anything else. When discussing Damnation, people thought that it was very sponsored and had shots that were there for advertising. The difference is that I think Damnation presented a problem and conveyed information, as well as how we can correct the mistakes. Manufactured Landscapes just showed a photographer taking photos about a problem many people already know about. It also didn’t even give advice on how to stop polluting the earth.

I personally believe that this film was the weakest one we have viewed so far, even more so than An Inconvenient Truth. I was against that film because it was essentially all data, however, Manufactured Landscapes did nothing for me. As I said before it seemed like a 1:30 advertisement for Burtynsky because it only showed these landscapes, and not the solution or steps we can take for improvement. It is opened ended, which can lead to discussion and more involvement by just showing the problem, but I thought it was a pointless film that didn’t even inform me of the ever growing manufactured landscapes.

Steve Woinoski and Ecovillages

I really enjoyed listening to Steve talk about his life and his experience in an ecovillage. Ihave listened to people before talk about their experiences in ecovillages, so I had basic knowledge about what they try to do. I think he brought up some good points, specifically about technology, and I commend him for going through with his plans and trying to live more environment friendly.

Steve seems like the type of guy that you would like to be around. He was really nice and enthusiastic. He was also determined, which is what you need to be if you want to live like he does. The community at White Hawk seems very close knit and though they are expanding, I believe that they will still be a tight community. I personally would not live in a community like that because I don’t think I could sacrifice the things that he does. I recognize that this may be a problem however, if I am too attached to modern things. If there was no other choice but to live like this in the future, I would obviously be able to, its more of I don’t want to give something up if I don’t have to. This relates to what he was saying about technology. While I understand what he was saying, I also believe that technology has great uses, but the key is moderation. Overall, he was a great guy to listen to with an awesome story.

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