The seas of today are filled, it seems, not with the glorious romance of transport vehicles like Tres Hombres or the various smaller vessels of the Sail Transport Network, nor even the one-off-ness of the sail powered delivery of cocoa beans from the Caribbean to a hipster chocolate manufacturer in Brooklyn. No, the basis for our decadent lifestyles was the invention in the 1950s of that wonder of standardisation, the shipping container.
For those who have had the pleasure, the experience of unloading a smelly, sweaty 20 footer in the Australian summer is unforgettable. For “Our Man” in All Is Lost, played wonderfully by an almost silent Robert Redford, the just floating container that fell off a ship is the beginning of the downhill slide that leaves him with the film’s title. For the rest of us, the colourful blocks, stacked high in container harbours, filled with whatever mysterious contents they hide, are an anonymous and mysterious as giant Lego bricks.
This is the starting point of the movie The Forgotten Space, a beautiful and poetic, meandering and subtly political documentary that attempts to uncover the rippling effects of the container upon our lives. All of our lives. Polynesian sailors and home help, street kids in Hong Kong, plastic producers in China, Polish fruit pickers in the Netherlands; all these people and more arise in this documentary that weaves some of the threads in this complex whole into one tapestry.
While the documentary moves away from the container, it also returns to it again and again, looping back to investigate the path of a container ship as it crosses the oceans. As one of the film makers mentions in an interview, the movie developed over years with the materials it found, adapting to the state of the world as that changed over the documentary creation process.
The result is a poetically beautiful, meandering exploration of what global trade is doing to us and the world, the ups and the downs, the reactions to that and the way things might be going. Very interesting.