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TIFF Review: Anthropocene is a shocking and beautiful documentary

Title: Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

Directors: Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky

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Edward Burtynsky, Coal Mine #1, North Rhine, Westphalia, Germany, 2105.

Edward Burtynsky/courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto/AGO

Vast rectangular ponds of foul yellow water lie evaporating in the Chilean desert; they will produce the lithium that powers electric-car batteries. A gorgeous red-and-grey rock is imprinted with an eye-catching circular pattern: It’s the mark of Russian potash mining, extracting one of the fertilizers that is permanently altering the composition of the Earth’s soil. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is packed with such shattering images and astounding ironies. As documentarians Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier pursue their collaboration with photographer Edward Burtynsky in a third film (following Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark), they strike a delicate yet purposeful balance between observation and advocacy. Both shocking and beautiful, the film impresses itself on the viewer with the awesome scale of the imagery – and with the urgency behind it. We have entered an epoch in which human activity is shaping the planet more than any natural force. Anthropocene bears witness that something’s got to give.

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The film Anthropocene: The Human Epoch opens Friday in Toronto, Oct. 5 in Vancouver, Oct. 19 in Montreal and through the fall in other cities.

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