Saturday, July 07, 2007

Summer Movies

Summer is traditionally the time for blockbuster entertainment. This year there are some quirky, brilliant and disturbing films to add to the list of summer viewing.

Michael Moore's newly released Sicko is a must see. This latest documentary from the director who elevated the genre to blockbuster status is shocking, heartbreaking and painfully funny. Sicko provides a Moore's eye view of the terminally ill American health care system and is possibly his best film to date. In his characteristic style, Moore talks to average Americans about how their lives have been impacted by a healthcare system run by profit-driven HMOs.

This is a particularly important film for Canadians. Canada's healthcare system is in jeopardy. If Moore's analysis is correct, we should all be fighting tooth and nail to keep our current universal system intact. The alternative, so skillfully depicted by Moore, is just too scary. According to the National Coalition on Health Care, under the current system 47 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 are without medical coverage. An estimated 18,000 will die as a result. This is more than the number of deaths from diabetes (17,500) within the same age group.

On a personal note, I found Moore's presence throughout the film to be particularly troubling. Given the health risks associated with obesity, I have a message for Michael: "Please lose weight. We need you. Your work is very, very important. God help you if after this film you find yourself seeking medical treatment within the U.S."

For those who prefer watching movies from the comfort of their own living rooms, there are a couple of newly released DVDs that should be added to the list.

Set in 2027, Children of Men tells the story of a world without hope. In the film the last live human birth occurred eighteen years before, in 2009, and now the world is in chaos. Despite its restricted rating, Children of Men, which was directed and co-written by acclaimed filmmaker Alphonso Cuaron, should be required viewing for anyone who cares about the future of the planet. Beyond the worry of a climate raging out of control, imagine what would happen if there were no more babies? As the main character says,

"I can't remember the last time I had any hope. Since women stopped being able to have babies, what's left to hope for?"

As Children of Men so graphically points out, all it would take is one barren generation. And then, as the graffiti on a wall in Alphonso Cuaron futuristic London asks, "The last one to die, please turn out the light."

The NFB documentary Manufactured Landscapes follows internationally acclaimed Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky on a journey throughout China. Through his large format photographs we see the almost unbelievable impact that China's massive industrialization has had on the landscape of the country.

This is not an easy film to watch. While Burtynsky's images are stunning and compelling, director Jennifer Baichwal could learn a lot from her subject's ability to capture an entire story in a single frame. While only 90 minutes in length, the film seems much longer. It drags on considerably, particularly during the opening credits of the film, but is nevertheless an important film to see.

As Burtynsky's writes, "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."

For those who enjoy Burtynsky's work, American photographer Chris Jordan has an equally disturbing collection entitled, Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption, on his website. Like Burtynsky, Jordan explores shipping ports, industrial yards and mining sites with his camera.

"Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences," writes Jordan. "I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits."

Hardly light summer entertainment, but all incredibly important and worthwhile nonetheless.


Check out Jordan’s photographic collection, Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption, at

For more on the work of Edward Burtynsky’s visit

For more information on Manufactured Landscapes, visit and search the catalogue of films.

Michael Moore’s official website is located at

The National Coalition on Health Care can be found at


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