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MOVIE REVIEW
Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011)

Beijing-besieged-by-waste
DGenerate Films

Part documentary, part photographic survey, part exposé, "Beijing Besieged by Waste" is artist Wang Jiuliang's highly personal look at the urban Chinese landscape in the face of extreme growth and general disregard for the environment.

Spurred by an interest in the destination of his own trash, Mr. Wang embarks on a journey to the outer rings of Beijing — home to dozens of poorly regulated, hazardous landfills. At each site he is faced with an endless ocean of trash, yet wisely stays away from imbuing the scene with any sort of grotesque beauty. Aside from the occasional landfill sunset, his palette is dull: all grays, browns and blacks.

In addition to examining the unsurprising ways that landfills contribute to land and water pollution, Mr. Wang also explores the human side of the trash industry. The dump serves as fertile ground for garbage pickers, who salvage the least-damaged goods and head back into town to resell them. In some cases, the landfill becomes home — literally — to communities of people who use it as a source of income, shelter and even food. Mr. Wang's documentary style is straightforward and participatory; his interviewees are shown as possessing integrity and self-reliance. (Unfortunately, not all his subjects come off so dignified: One of the sadder and more repulsive scenes features a herd of goats, stumbling through mountains of discarded plastic, staring blankly at the camera while munching away on trash.)

Of course, environmental issues are not a uniquely Chinese problem, but the film highlights the particular issues that stem from the rapid growth and widespread corruption found in many large Chinese cities. "Beijing Besieged by Waste" is a somewhat awkward translation to English, but the title reflects the bleakness of Mr. Wang's subject matter: Beijing and other urban centers will be slowly invaded by an army of their own creation. Mr. Wang's film is a small, personal and low-budget warning — but a warning nonetheless.

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