Reviewed by GREG KING


Directors: Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado.

They say one picture is worth a thousand words, and that seems especially true when the pictures come from the lens of Brazilian born photographer Sebastiao Salgado.

Initially Salgado studied economics at the behest of his father, but while living in Paris in the 60s he discovered a passion for photography. This passion became his life’s work, and for the next four decades or so Salgado travelled around the world, visiting some of its trouble spots and war zones. He captured some striking and horrific images of death, genocide, war and man’s inhumanity as he witnessed some of the key events of the second half of the twentieth century. His camera caught emaciated bodies during the famine that decimated Ethiopia, the ruined bloodied bodies of victims of the genocide of Rwanda, and the blazing oil wells of Kuwait during the Gulf War. Despite the horrors they portray though, the stark black and white images are striking and unforgettable.

But after forty years of documenting death and destruction, Salgado was sickened by it all and he put down his camera and retired to his family’s plantation in Brazil. There he became interested in restoring an old forest on the property. His newfound interest in ecology and environmental issues soon prompted him to take up his camera again, but this time he photographed images of the environment and our fragile ecology for a project he called Genesis.

This Oscar nominated documentary is a reverential look at Salgado and his life’s work. It has been directed by German filmmaker Wim Wenders, who has undergone a sort of career renaissance himself as a director of fine documentaries (The Buena Vista Social Club, Pina, etc), and Salgado’s estranged son and filmmaker Juliano Salgado. Juliano had accompanied his father on a trip into the Amazon jungle to photograph a remote native tribe, and the expedition and process of making the film helped him reconnect with Sebastiao. The documentary was shot over several years and Wenders and Salgado had a wealth of material to draw upon in the editing suite. The film is something of a labour of love for Salgado in particular.

Salgado himself does provide some personal insights into the background of many of the photos. But Salgado’s spectacular photographs serve to effectively narrate the documentary, making the more conventional voice over from both Wenders and Salgado a little redundant. Wenders largely ignores Salgado’s personal story, making this something of a superficial look at the influential photographer. And the latter part of the film looking at his environmental and philanthropic interests in revitalising a large tract of forest land and creating the Instituto Terra are a little dull.

The film explores themes of regrowth and redemption, and the parallels with Salgado’s own personal sense of artistic renewal gives a more personal quality to the material. But with an overly generous running time of 109 minutes, The Salt Of The Earth at times feels a little prosaic and overlong.



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