FestivalsFilmReview

Matter Out of Place – watchAUT Austrian Film Festival

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Director: Nikolaus Geyrhalter

There is no doubt that humanity is having an unprecedented impact on our environment. Everywhere that people exist, travel to or encounter we leave our rubbish behind, and we know this because filmmaker Nikolaus Geyrhalter has been to every conceivable landscape and captured the dumping of our refuse in new documentary Matter Out of Place, screening at the watchAUT Austrian Film Festival. There is rubbish everywhere in this film, juxtaposed against the beauty of the environment as a carpet of waste affects even the most peaceful landscapes the director can find.

Without narration and only occasional conversation, this largely unspoken film captures the sights and sounds of waste management from collection to transport and eventual dumping in places largely out of site. A patchwork of stories emerges, across countries and highly contrasting environments that notes the generation waste in some of the most beautiful and peaceful places where the surface charm conceals a network of waste management activity including snow-capped mountain resorts, idyllic Caribbean beaches and the bustling cities of Asia, even in the sea floor itself.

Geyrhalter doesn’t introduce any of these places, there are no screencards or polemical messages, there doesn’t need to be because the images do the talking. A lingering shot of a sunkissed equatorial beach cuts to a litter-strewn scene in the same area, plastic bottles piled up against palm trees and detritus abandoned across this seemingly perfect landscape. The scene is repeated across this 100-minute collection of stories.

Matter Out of Place also focuses on the people and systems whose purpose in life is to clean up or transport our rubbish somewhere else. Some of these are in very wealth locations or those that attract rich tourists expecting paradise and Geyrhalter shows room service teams, rubbish collectors, divers and beach combers going about their work. Other times the focus is in crowded cities where thousands of people live side-by-side and workers must wheel their carts down narrow lanes to collect bags for disposal and take them back to the truck.

There are lots of shots of boats and open dumpster trucks spilling over with bags of litter which they cart to other locations to dump in landfill, burn or crush. Diggers and similar machines are needed to pack it into these vessels for transportation and Geyrhalter paints a picture of endless waste requiring disconnected world-wide networks of people and machines just to process it all and, most importantly, hide it away where none of us have to look it – “out of sight, out of mind” a man in a hardhat says uncovering a landfill sight grown over with grass.

At 100-minutes, this is a long film, often showing activities in long stretches of real time, and while Geyrhalter offers plenty of problems, what are the solutions? Drawing attention to the problem with a documentary is helpful, not to mention all the noxious gases being released by incineration and the rickety old trucks carrying it around, so the scale of Geyrhalter’s work is shocking. But what next? Perhaps there really is only so much we can see before we stop being able to compute the scale of the solution needed to tackle the endless, global generation of rubbish so attention does wander. But looks like it’s going to take more the 1970 and 80s litterbug information films to solve this.

Matter Out of Place is screening at watchAUT Austrian Film Festival from 23-26 March 2023 at Ciné Lumière, London.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Shocking scale

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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