I just watched my favourite documentary of 2015 (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2014). Not having had the chance to see it at the cinema (where it should be seen), I finally got it on Blu-ray (don’t even THINK of watching it on DVD) thanks to Gareth’s recommendation.
The Salt of the Earth was made by Wim Wenders (great German filmmaker) and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the son of the documentary’s subject: Sebastião Salgado. Salgado is one of the world’s greatest photographers and has spent much of his life travelling around the world creating photo essays/projects (usually spending years on one project). At first, his projects were about exploring the human condition (he was called a social photographer) as he sought to understand what was happening in the places where people were suffering. So Salgado travelled to places where people were suffering from war, famine, harsh work conditions, etc., including a significant project on refugees (in the 1990’s), which is an even greater problem today, taking thousands of heartbreaking photographs.
After years of seeing how humanity is capable of creating so much horror and suffering, especially through the utter madness of war, Salgado turned to photographing nature and became a champion of reversing the damage humans have done to nature. The Brazilian valley in which he grew up had lost all its vegetation and wildlife, so Salgado and his wife created an organization to regrow the forest that had originally been there. It is now a National Park.
The Salt of the Earth tells Salgado’s story by sharing hundreds of his B&W photographs with Salgado’s commentary and by having Wenders and Juliano talk about Salgado’s life. This is not so much a film about photography as it is a film about life on planet earth as seen through the eyes of one of the world’s greatest photographers.
No words can adequately describe the haunting beauty of Salgado’s photographs. To me, they feel surreal or otherworldly, as if they are work of sci-fi artists showing life on a distant planet. The other words which came to me to describe Salgado’s photos and the film as a whole were: gorgeous, horrific, inspiring, terrifying, breathtaking, depressing, optimistic, pessimistic; but, above all, moving, humanizing and thought-provoking.
The Salt of the Earth is a very difficult film to watch because so many of its images are so disturbing they can only be called horrific. But it’s only rated PG (that makes no sense to me). In any event, it’s an absolute must-see (on Blu-ray of HD) if you can handle the content. An easy ****. My mug is up.