18.10.2011 - I watched two ADFF
documentaries, Beijing Beseiged by Waste and Taste the Waste, back to back. It was in August, over
Ramadan. During my next iftar meal, as I hungrily piled shards of
lamp and shovelfuls of rice from the buffet onto my plate, I felt a
rumbling in my stomach. It wasn't hunger, it was guilt. These two
films did not make me happy.
They weren't supposed to.
The product of two years of work, 15,000 kilometers of travel and
visits to 500 landfills, Beijing Besieged by Waste began
as a fine art project by photographer Wang Jiu-liang. He shot
nearly 10,000 photographs on his travels and recorded 60 hours of
video. One of my favorite documentaries last year was Lucy Walker's
Waste Land, which also screened at ADFF. Set in the
world's largest garbage dump in Brazil, that film found a sort of
mesmerizing poetry in the shower of waste flowing from garbage
trucks. Wang, however, looks on with a less romantic eye.
He's foremost a photographer, and his goal is to capture the
unadorned reality of a dire situation. He watches as dump trucks
unleash mounds of tar-black silt residue from sewage treatment
plants. Rivers of deadly water stand stagnant and yellow-brown. Men
with pick axes chip away at the mammoth hunks of concrete left over
from new buildings and roads. Farm animals graze on putrid waste.
Livestock farmers return from the city with buckets of slop that
they boil down to a slurry to feed their hogs. And through the
smoggy haze at the periphery, not far away at all, the skyline is
thick with new concrete high-rises and towering construction
cranes, symbols of the explosive growth that has brought on this
What is going on here? Being in the movie business, I'd like to
think this is a movie set, that Wang and his art director created
some post-apocalyptic nightmare world on a soundstage to scare us
straight. Any minute now the zombies are going to jump out of the
dark and Will Smith is going to gun them down. But this is
Beijing's reality. Wang doesn't need to add any cinematic tricks.
His quiet voice and gentle hand as a director only amplify the
inflammatory nature of his topic. He and the many people whom he
interviews - those living and working in the dumps - offer few
solutions, but merely exposing the horrors serves as a call to act
before Beijing, then China, then the entire planet, is swallowed by
While Beijing is about the
final resting place of our garbage, Taste the Waste puts
its focus on an earlier stage in this unholy cycle of consumption
and waste. Think of all those iftar buffets, all those swank Friday
brunch buffets. In the back of our minds we know a lot of that food
ends up going to waste, but German director Valentin Thurn finds
something even more upsetting in his film. A lot of food goes to
waste before it has even been cooked and served. A lot of food is
thrown out before it is even spoiled. How much? Each year, 90
million tons of food are thrown away in the European Union alone.
If loaded onto trucks, the convoy of food waste would span the
equator. After making an illogical trek halfway around the world, a
staggering percentage of crops grown by farmers in impoverished
countries end up in the garbage once they reach the European and
North American markets. An entire pallet of oranges could wind up
in the landfill if just one shows mold. Thurn finds no shortage of
these shocking facts to expose in his film as he travels the globe
to expose a reality we often choose to ignore.
Through far-reaching visits with supermarket managers, cooks,
farmers, wholesale market inspectors, food bank workers, welfare
recipients and bureaucrats, Thurn discovers a truth that will shame
those whose mothers taught them always to clean their plates: We're
all to blame. Every time we pick a pristine apple over a bruised
one or scan the dairy case for the latest expiration dates, we
exert a huge influence over the food cycle. But, ultimately,
Taste the Waste is less about pointing the finger and more
about finding a solution. From Austrian dumpster divers who source
90 percent of their food from the trash, to a baker in France who
turns his unsold bread into fuel, to young people operating rooftop
farms in New York City, the filmmakers finds plenty of regular
folks making a difference.
Beijing Beseiged by Waste screens as part of the
Documentary Feature Competition and
Our World program on Wednesday, October 19 at 8:45pm at Marina
Mall's VOX Cinemas and Friday, October 21 at 1:45pm at VOX.
Taste the Waste screens in the
Our World program on Wednesday, October 19 at 6:15pm at Marina
Mall's VOX Cinemas and Friday, October 21 at 4:30pm at VOX.