“The Salt of the Earth” (2014)
The co-director of the film, Wim Wenders, opens this documentary by talking about discovering a fascinating black-and-white photograph that he explores in great detail on camera. He doesn’t know much about the photographer but is blown away about the composition and the subject matter. The picture shows thousands of workers in an open-air mine. One man stands in the middle of the picture while surrounded by a mass of humanity. Some men are climbing down to the pits and others with heavy burlap bags, ascending rickety ladders, exhaustion painted on their faces. It’s an incredible photograph from an equally remarkable man, Brazilian photographer and activist Sebastian Salgado. Wenders decides to make a film on Salgado and his lifelong work to explore the world, photographing the people and places he encounters along the way.
Salgado was born in Brazil into a family of 9 living on a cattle ranch. He went to college, majoring in economics. He graduated, got married and started working as an economist. One day, his wife bought a camera, and Salgado’s life would never be the same. Finding out that he had a talent to take pictures, he decided to combine photography with his knowledge of economics and his leftist background. His mission was to document the world with the idea that if the pictures spoke strongly enough, they could cause the world to take notice and maybe even spur change. Because of this philosophy, Salgado has traveled to the far reaches of the world, witnessing the mix beauty and horror on the planet we live on. It wasn’t unusual for Salgado to spend years working on a project, and sometimes those projects took him into regions torn by war, disease and man’s inhumanity to man. This is what Salgado did best; being able to get every inch of humanity into his pictures and Wenders lets each picture unfold to its fullest, no matter how hard or ugly the subject matter.
The film, at times, is breathtaking as Salgado’s pictures are displayed in all their black-and-white glory. But the film is also heartbreaking as Salgado made it his mission to try to shed light to some of the world’s worst areas. There are a number of shots of dead or dying people, most of which are in crowded relief camps. He also documented groups of refugees being forced to travel long distances by war or famine. To see the pictures of a father or mother carrying a dead child is just devastating. All the destruction and misery wore on Salgado, so much so that his latest project is meant to revive his lust for life, creating a photographic tribute to the beauty of the world. It’s this project that Wim Wenders and his co-director Juliano Salgado (the son of the subject); document Salgado shooting at the beginning and end of this film.
Wenders utilizes an unusual technique in the film, allowing Salgado to talk about his photos while looking directly into the camera as his pictures fade in and out on the screen. It’s an effective way to keep Salgado talking about his pictures without doing jarring cuts from his talking head to his photos. The film never gets boring or slows down, mostly due to the compelling story that Salgado tells, capitalizing on his ability to remember incredible details of every single picture. It shows how much Salgado cared about and how much time he spent with his subject matters. Wenders lets us explore the pictures as they slowly linger on the screen, all the time Salgado is talking about the story of the picture, so that we get a feeling of actually experiencing what he was thinking and feeling while he took the shot.
“The Salt of the Earth” is an amazing film, full of beautiful shots taken by an incredible man. It’s a film that will fill your thoughts for days after seeing this powerful film. My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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“The Salt of the Earth” is playing exclusively at UA Tara Cinemas 4 Theatre