“The Salt of the Earth” is a documentary film that co-directed by Win Wenders and Salgado, which was released in France in October of 2014. Salgado as the main character of this film, tells the audience about his real stories. He expresses the darkness that he saw from the world during his long journey of life. In a photographic exhibition of year 1988, the German director Wim Wenders was deeply captured by two black and white photographs which is took from the Brazilian Serra Pelada gold mine. These scenes come from the lens of Brazilian documentary photographer Sebastian Salgado. It was this special “encounter” that prompted Wim to intentionally shoot a film about Salgado, as well as about human and society. The film shows series of powerful images that he captured with the camera, and shows the photographer’s interpretation of his work as well. The first scene in the film is a light that flashed from black, then a dissolution of the image that shocked Wim very much— the black and white photo that took from the Brazilian Serra Pelada gold mine. The film director Wim Wenders says in film as a narrator: “I first saw this picture here, in a gallery, more than twenty years ago. I had no idea who took it. Whoever it was to be both a great photographer and adventure, I thought. There’s a signature stand in the back—Sebastiao Salgado (Winders).” Salgado began to focus on the issues of refugees and ecological damages. His photography jobs stared with his observation and exploration of the natural environment and human society. He objectively photographed as a spectator, and recorded everything he saw with his cool black and white tones. In nearly two hours of film, director Wim Winders is not only limited on interviews and quizzes in a form, but also most presents the masterpiece of Salgado with a series of “transparent lens”, and plays them in slideshow format. Salgado as a narrator, uses a deep and slightly accented French introduction, like an old man’s telling and teaching for the younger generations. This research will introduce the documentary strategies that are applied in the Salt of the Earth.
According to the definition from Corrigan and White: “Nonfiction films present factual descriptions of actual events, persons, or places, rather than their fictional or invented re-creation” (Corrigan and White 261). The documentary film the Salt of the Earth is a typical nonfiction film. However, this documentary depicts the life of Salgado in chronological order, and introduced the family members of Salgado (his father, wife and children) and his adventure. He took pictures in South America, Africa and Europe, then finally returned to his birthplace—Brazil. In Corrigan and White’s saying: “A non-narrative film may be entirely or partly fictional; conversely, a nonfiction film can be constructed as a narrative (Corrigan and White).” This documentary film is a nonfictional and a narrative film. According to Corrigan and White’s definition: “Cumulative organizations present a catalog of images or sounds throughout the course of the film. It may be a simple series with no recognizable logic connecting the images (Corrigan and white).” the documentary film the Salt of the Earth, a various of photographs gradually promote the development of the film. Sometimes images show portraits, sometimes are sceneries. Some people rest, others work. Using the images of Brazilian gold mine as an example, these photographs is simply stacked together by Wim, but without logical order. Furthermore, Sebastian describes the people’s livings of deepest South America—their medieval yoke and plow, and the people who really adored music. As a matter of fact, there is no connection between these two. This section shows a series of photographs that he takes, and lists them together like slideshow. Corrigan and White had an analysis of the documentary film Rain (1929), as a reference example: “The accumulation of images of different kinds of rain showers gradually created a poetic documentary of various shapes and textures (Corrigan and White).”
Documentary is the reproduction of the original appearance of life, is the record of objective facts. The objective fact is the main soul of the documentary movies. Personal documentary can be described to a video about someone’s life stories. According to the description of Tim Dirks: “In many cases, these films put an emphasis on the larger events surrounding the person’s whole life as they rose to fame and glory. Some begin with the person’s childhood, but others concentrate on adult achievements (Dirks).” The film is interspersed with the narratives from Salgado’s father, which is about little Salgado who does not like to study, but loves traveling very much. Salgado benefited from the economics that his father forced him to learn during his childhood, so that he understood industry and trade, therefore understood the rules of the world as well. This movie throughout almost of the whole life of Salgado, and described his growth experience, and the progress of falling love with Lelia. It can be called a typical “Personal Documentary”, because this film has many relations about his family and growth experience. For the Salt of the Earth, the authenticity is reflected by the “double characters” of the real, which in addition to record objectively of the real experience and feelings of Salgado. However, it recorded the performance and expression for film production. There are creators, cameras and reproduction methods and other factors between the documentary film and the real life. The reality which shown in the film has been arranged and organized by the director Wim, according to Wim and Salgado’s common view of art. Marcel Martin once mentioned in his book Movie Language: “the original reality of a variety of purification and intensive treatment (Martin).” Now, the “reality” in film is no longer just the reality itself, but to become an aesthetic expression of director Wim. According to the definition of the biographical film: “Biopic Films are a sub-genre of the larger drama and epic film genres. These films depict and dramatize the life of an important historical personage (or group) from the past or present era (Dirks).” Personal documentary has some common elements of Biographical film, it is very different from the ordinary narrative film. In the plot structure, it is restricted by the events of the character. Therefore, the Salt of the Earth must according to Salgado’s real experiences to depict the typical environment, and to shape a full and vivid character. Biographical films emphasize authenticity, that is why they must have a thesis of director’s points of view, to focus on what audiences can understand on the screen.
Moreover, the Salt of the Earth is a rhetorical documentary film. It includes the elements of explorative position, and many authoritative narrations from Salgado and Wim. The film directly expresses about Salgado’s views on some of the universal problems. According to the description by Hugo: “Expository documentaries speak directly to the viewer, often in the form of an authoritative commentary available voiceover or titles, proposing a strong argument and point of view. These films are rhetorical, and try to persuade the viewer (Couto).” The middle part of the film shows a series of photographs which taken by Salgado in 1984 Ethiopia. These photos are express the disasters that he saw—the famine caused by the distribution problem. The ground is full of refugees and death. This phenomenon becomes a daily part of Ethiopian. There are some relevant explanations of Corrigan and White: “Many documentaries mimic the anthropologist’s project of exploring other cultures, in this case the rituals and daily routines of an Inuit family (Corrigan and White).” Salgado presents his own stories of cultural exploration, in an objectively way as an anthropologist. Salgado has enough voice, because he goes along with the people who died. He shoots a feature film about famine. When the black and white photos are played out, Sebastian Salgado whispers: “Look at the state of the people. At that stage, they have no strength left, they said people die of famine. Famine weakness the body, but it’s the parallel diseases that kill (Salgado).” He explains the story behind these photographs in an objective point of view, and focuses on how to express the reality as well.
In addition, the film the Salt of the Earth is a typical personal Documentaries. According to the explanation of Corrigan and white: “As a line between social documentaries and ethnographic films has wavered, filmmaking equipment becomes more widely available, personal or subjective documentaries that look more like autobiographies or diaries have become more common (Corrigan and White).” In general, this movie is a biographical film which belongs to the film genres. Biographical film always has many differences from the general feature film and historical film. The plot structure of biographical film is restricted by some real events of the character. In this case, the movie must create the settings of the story according to the experiences of the character. According to definition. Net: “A biographical film, or biopic, is a film that dramatizes the life of an actual person or people. Such films show the life of a historical person and the central character’s real name is used (Definitions. Net).” Even the film only shows few years of character’s life, still needs comprehensively express to the audience. In the Salt of the Earth, director Wim Wenders introduces Salgado’s life experience. He inserted the video which is an interview with Salgado’s father. This video introduces Salgado’s childhood through his father’s introduction, as well as the time they spent together when Salgado was a little child. Subsequently, Wim borrows the photographs that taken by Salgado, which is Salgado’s wife Lelia and their first children. As well as the photos taken by other people, which shows a young Sebastian Salgado with long blonde hair and bushy beard.
There are some other examples about the biographical film of Wim Wenders: In 1980, Wim Wenders made a documentary movie that is called Lightning Over Water (1980), which tells the life experience of famous film director Nicholas Ray; then, there was another biographical movie released, named Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989), which introduces some comments and philosophical musings of a Japanese fashion designer Yohi Yamamoti. In these movies, director Wim Wenders uses a similar expression to introduce the stories of these characters as the introduction in the Salt of the Earth. In the movie Tokyo-ga (1985), Wenders compared two different periods of Tokyo, one is the city on Yasujiro’s camera, another is the city on thirty years later. Winders almost follows the shooting way that Yasujiro used to do, it seems the similar way that he uses in the film the Salt of the Earth. Wim Winders borrows the photographs from Sebastian Salgado, and tells Salgado’s life through these images.
In conclusion, the documentary film the salt of the Earth is a typical non-fictional and personal documentary film which includes the elements of cumulative organizations, developmental organizations and explorative positions. Jesus once said to his disciples: “you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world.” In sixth minutes and fifty-seventh seconds of the film, we heard the expression from Wim Wenders, he said: “After all, peoples are the salt of the earth.”
Cited of Works
“biographical film.” Definitions. Net. STANDS4 LLC, 2017. Web. 15 Jun 2017.
Corrigan, Timothy and Patricia White.The Film Experience: An Introduction. Third Edition. Bedford/St Martin’s, 2012
Couto, Hugo. “6 Types of Documentary.” Collaborative Documentary Workshop Porto ’09. Hugo Couto, 19 June 2009. Web. 15 June 2017.
Dirks, Tim. “Biopics Films.” The “Greatest” and the “Best” in Cinematic History. American Movie Classics Company, 2017. Web. 15 June 2017.
Martin, Marcel. Movie Language Dian Ying Yu Yan. Ed. Zhen’gan He. Bejing: China Film Press, 1980. Print.
“Posts about Personal Documentary on Life Story Video.” Life Story Video. Life story Video, 26 Fen. 2011. Web. 10 June 2017.