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Humankind as a geological factor. For some time now, science has been familiar with the term Anthropocene, referring to a geological era in which humans have become one of the most important factors influencing the physical processes of their home planet.
Humans move more than twice the amount of the millions of tons of earth that the Earth itself actually does. Though the wind may blow fiercely across the plains and the water claw inexorably at the riverbanks – humans employ shovel excavators and dynamite and strive to subjugate the Earth. This element appears here in several forms at once: as a projection consisting of home planet and raw material, which is presented on one hand as a resource rich in mineral wealth and on the other as a mass to be manoeuvred that can be used for manifold purposes.
At different locations across Europe and North America, Nikolaus Geyrhalter visits sites of underground excavation and opencast mining, spaces of development and upheaval, scenes of fundamental change and irreversible destruction. At Brenner Pass, a tunnel is being driven through what an engineer describes as “the meat of the mountain” and another mountain is being carried out of the marble quarries of Carrara, while every effort is made to ensure that nothing is altered in a former salt mine at Asse contaminated with radioactive waste. Geyrhalter observes the machines and their humans at work, he lets the story of what is playing out here tell itself, he gathers and assembles.
What emerges is a relentless burrowing of immense proportions, and open wounds in the Earth’s crust – in the Rio Tinto copper mine in Spain, on the edge of the oil sands in Canada’s Alberta, in a Hungarian lignite opencast mine in the middle of a pre-historic swamp cedar forest. A site manager in California quips “We move mountains for a living”, while his division of diggers toils away at a vast redistribution of the landscape.
Nikolaus Geyrhalter, who is, as always, responsible for all the camerawork here, patiently records what is occurring. He shows the labour of the machines in the disintegrating landscapes and he hears what those active within have to say about their work and its potential significance, in words that prove surprising time and again. EARTH is a physical inventory that makes evident what it means to be a geological factor that conceives of earth as a raw material and mass to be manoeuvred. And it poses the question of what actually happened to the home planet in the process, or at least to the notion of one.
Berlin Film Festival – Prize of the Ecumenical Jury
Festival of Austrian Film – Best Sounddesign Documentary
Sheffield International Documentary Festival – International Award
English, German, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish with English Subtitles
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