The Salt of the Earth, which won the Special Prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, Best Documentary at the 40th Cesar Awards and was nominated for Best Documentary at the 87th Academy Awards, portrays the works of world-renowned Brazillian social documentary photographer and photojournalist Sebastião Salgado.
Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas and Pina), a long-time friend and admirer of Salgado’s work, and Salgado’s son Juliano Salgado co-direct this remarkable film about the man who exposed undocumented social issues and revealed the harsh realities of the human condition through his art and, broken by the desecration and suffering he witnessed, generously gave back. It is a true-to-life Man Who Planted Trees – I won’t spoil the details of the similarities – and that is praise reserved for only very special films.
It was only several years ago that Juliano decided to accompany his father on one of his photographic excursions, which frequented Juliano’s childhood. Salgado would spend months (and often years) separated from his wife Lélia and son travelling abroad. He has visited over 100 countries for his award-winning and widely celebrated projects, which include ‘Workers: Archaeology of the Industrial Age’, ‘Migrations’, ‘Africa’ and ‘Genesis’. The latter is his most recent work, in which he sought locations around the globe that appear to have escaped the imprint of humanity. Juliano took his camera along to northern Brazil without an approach in mind, but, with Wenders’ agreed involvement in the interview process, the film spawned.
We get a sense of Salgado’s extraordinary experiences through his photographs and the stories behind each one. Salgado, who trained and worked as an economist before dropping everything and taking the risky plunge into his new vocation, has received inspirational support from Lelia throughout his career. His continent-spanning work captures, in striking black and white, poverty, displacement, war and genocide, from the aftermath of Rwandan genocide, to the height of the Ethiopian famine to the burning oil fields in Kuwait. These beautiful, deep, detailed and often distressing images hold immense power on their own, but accompanied by Salgado’s commentary on what he had to endure to take them and how his experiences made him feel and the wonderful musical score from Laurent Petitgand, they become profound.
The director pair also accompany Salgado on a mission to capture a rare congregation of walruses in the Arctic, where they find opposition from an inquisitive polar bear. What we learn from his reasoning for not photographing the bear, a beautiful and interesting creature itself, is just how dedicated he is to his own vision. He believed that the bear lacked action and that there was nothing of interest in the background. The lone subject without history or context did not meet his standards. But, just as he has been changed by what he has experienced in his career, he has evolved both as a human being and a photographer. He took on new projects, created new collections and transformed into a nature and wildlife photographer – turning his lens away from the horrors of humanity in the search for something more pure and untainted – the animal kingdom, and the wonders found on the surface of the earth.
The most effective technique in this film the superimposition of the photographs with Salgado’s face, filmed through the projected image. The artist and the work is synonymous, and just as his projects evolve, what Salgado seeks to achieve with his work does too. When you consider the period of time Salgado has been working, this film has been forty years in the making. In The Salt of the Earth you learn a lot about the man whose work has transcended art to become a tool of activism, but also of the world that we live in.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders
Writer(s): Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, David Rosier, Camille Delafon
Starring: Sebastião Salgado
Runtime: 110 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: April 9, 2015