The Forgotten Space

The Forgotten Space featured image

By Marc Glassman

Alan Sekula and Noel Burch, directors
Shot in: the Netherlands, the US, China and on ships at sea

In an age of globalization, what is happening to ships, trucks and railroads and the people who work in these older forms of transportation? Airplanes may claim the glamour spot but the forgotten methods of conveyance are still very much in use throughout the world. Ignored by mainstream media and the general population, transportation workers are exploited by corporations who have made lives on modern railways and boats far more alienating than they were in the past.

The Forgotten Space turns its light on this deliberately shadowy field. From operators of railroads and canal ships in Holland and Belgium to dockworkers and truckers in Los Angeles to Hong Kong-based shipmates, the film’s makers offer a series of revealing–and depressing—profiles. One quickly sees how useful it is for giant transport companies to keep a lid on their exploitive methods. While money is channeled into corporate profits, the workers aren’t being justly rewarded for their efforts. And nothing is being done to change conditions.

This tough-minded indictment of a hidden aspect of the global economy goes way beyond the standard documentary format. Alan Sekula and Noel Burch are radical intellectuals and gifted artists. A highly successful photographer and writer, Sekula is a sensational cinematographer: the images in this film are appropriately bright and alienating, fully in keeping with the subject. Burch has been hailed as a great writer and theorist: his narration is political and philosophical–and brilliantly formulated.

Just like its subject, The Forgotten Space moves into a rarely seen contemporary genre: the politically engaged film essay. In the hands of Sekula and Burch, its return is a happy one indeed.

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