SALT OF THE EARTH – Review by Susan Granger

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salt of the earth postet160One of the most dazzling documentaries ever, the Oscar-nominated “Salt of the Earth” chronicles the work of humanistic photographer Sabastiao Salgado – as seen through the eyes of his son, Juliano, and filmmaker Wim Wenders. This unique visual odyssey into “the heart of darkness” begins as Salgado comments on one of his most recognized images, a shot of 50,000 men in the vast Serra Pelada gold mine that formed part of the indigenous “Workers: Archeology of the Industrial Age” series, published in 1993. Read on…

Born in the Brazilian mining town of Minas Gerais, Salgado studied economics, working with the World Bank in France in 1969 – after the political unrest of Brazil’s military coup. Seeking artistic fulfillment, he and his wife, Lelia, then left for Niger in 1973, when he launched his concept of picturing nobility amid suffering and deprivation.

“We humans are a terrible animal; we are extremely violent,” Salgado notes. “Our history is a history of war; it’s an endless story.”

Determined to live with the people he was photographing with his Canon, Salgado obviously empathized with them, demonstrating a deep understanding of their dire situation. This series went on to include “Migrations” (2000) and “Sachel: the End of the Road” (2004).

Bitterly disillusioned about mankind’s salvation, Salvado eventually returned to Brazil, where he found his family’s once-verdant ranch in Aimores parched by draught. Working with Leila, he launched an experimental program of reforestation, conservation and education, which became “Instituto Terra,” a model for similar efforts worldwide.

That inspired his most recent project, “Genesis,” encompassing pristine areas of Earth that have retained their primordial characteristics: Siberia’s Wrangel Island, Amazonia and Papua New Guinea.

Berlin-based filmmaker Wim Wenders (“Paris, Texas,” “Wings of Desire”) is one of the most important auteurs to emerge from the “New German Cinema” period in the 1970s. Wisely, he films this cinematic revelation mostly in black-and-white, matching Salvado’s starkly haunting photographic eye.

Film buffs will rejoice that many of Wenders’ early films, long out-of-circulation, are now available on DVD through the Criterion Collection.

In English, French and Portuguese, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Salt of the Earth” is a magnificent 9, filled with indelible imagery.

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