I went to the Watershed yesterday to see a film. It was being shown in Cinema 2 – the tiny cinema with seats for just 45 people. ALL 45 seats were taken.This was very unusual, especially for an afternoon performance (there have been occasions when there’s just been me and two others in attendance!).
The film was “Salt of the Earth”, directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders. It was documentary featuring the work of Brazilian photographer Sabastiao Salgado (Juliano’s father) compiled over the past 40 years.
It was simply stunning.
The audience sat spellbound for 110 minutes in absolute silence.
The film consisted of well over 1,000 black+white photographs, with simple, sparse commentary – which frequently featured head-shots of Sabastiao talking about his work and his experiences.
The images were horrific (man’s inhumanity towards man is an under-statement), haunting and tragic… but, at the same time, very beautiful and poignant. They included shots from various of his photographic projects/assignments, including: the Serra Pelado mountain goldmine in Brazil, taken in the mid-1980s; through “Sahel” looking at the famine in Ethiopia, again in the 1980s; the plight of refugees from Rwanda and Yugoslavia during their respective troubles in the 1990s. Somehow, he was allowed into the lives of utterly miserable and desperate human beings. His photographs provided a message to the world.
The film also includes footage of Sabastiao’s aged father (Juliano’s grandfather) on his drought-stricken farm in Brazil – which had once been a thriving forest (before it was felled to help pay for the education and the survival(?) of his family). Having "seen into the heart of darkness" (as Wenders puts it in his occasionally narration) for so long, a burned-out Selgado returned to Brazil and, thanks to his wife’s initiative and drive, embarked on a plan of replanting and reviving the land that he dubbed "Instituto Terra." Not only did this effort help begin to bring the farm back to life, it would spread, first to other parts of Brazil and then worldwide.
After the stream of harrowing black+white images of people’s suffering at the hands of others, greed and the destruction of our planet, it’s completely fitting that the film should end on a hugely-uplifting, positive note.
Without a doubt, this is the best film I’ve seen this year.
Photo: Sabastiao Salgado standing in front of just a few of his photographs.
PS: If you’re not familiar with Salgado’s work, I suggest you just click “Salgado” on google images… you’ll be stunned (and also sadly appalled).
PPS: You can catch the film at the Watershed, Bristol until Wednesday 5 August.