“How does water shape us; how do we shape water?” With “Watermark,” Canadian team of filmmaker Jennifer Baichwal and photographer Edward Burtynsky collaborate ever more closely on depicting the vast, near-abstract beauty of our fallen, falling world across the face of ten countries. Grave, momentous, lush, threatening, engulfing, their high-definition imagery (by Baichwal’s husband and customary cameraman Nicholas de Pencier) surveying the epic scale of bodies of water and the thrash and volume of currents and spill-off is keenly beautiful. And its implications are as frightful as those in Baichwal’s “Manufactured Landscapes,” in which Burtynsky and the vast photographic panoramas of our reshaped planet were featured. Lectures are left at the door and exposition in the ether: the figures on-camera tend to gentler philosophy. The near-abstract imagery is hypnotic even when horrifying, which is often. The soundtrack is composed largely of emphatic recordings of natural sound, of rush and roar and sudden near-silence. (Burtynsky’s five-year large-format survey has been published as a preciously priced fine-art photography book, “Water,” as well.) From a shooting ratio of 180:1, the filmmakers range ten countries and twenty locations, arraying a gorgeous gorge in post-rainfall autumn from low-skimming aircraft, desert cracks, rain spacks water beneath Chinese dams, dusty snow swirls around a Greenland encampment, bathers in the Ganges, surfers in the Pacific and Burtynsky in his studio, meditating on “how does water shape us and how do we shape water?” And always the sound of slap, lap and sluice. 90m. (Ray Pride)
“Watermark” opens Friday, May 25 at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published later this year.