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Age of Aluminum: Reykjavik Review

The Bottom Line

More eye-opening than the average eco-doc.

Venue

Reykjavik International Film Festival, A Different Tomorrow

Director

Bert Ehgartner

Bert Ehgartner shows the surprisingly varied and troubling roles aluminum plays in our lives.

A disturbing environmental doc with particular relevance in Iceland, where aluminum smelting is high on the radar of eco-conscious activists, Bert Ehgartner's Age of Aluminum ties the threats presented by aluminum-manufacturing to the environment with hazards the finished product presents to individual users' health. Thorough and convincing but suffering a bit from dry presentation, the film could be quite a bit more commercial in the States with a slightly tweaked script and narration.

Opening with a gotcha scene in which one woman's morning cosmetics ritual reveals a flat scar where one of her breasts used to be, the film starts by drawing links between cancer and aluminum used in products like deodorant. We're told that an unusually high percentage of breast cancers begin near the armpit, leading some doctors to advise patients to throw out all their aluminum-containing antiperspirant. Later we learn of suspicions that use of aluminum in heartburn treatments and dialysis drugs is connected to conditions ranging from food allergies to Alzheimer's. The latter, naturally, gets a great deal of emphasis here -- and while certain government-funded scientists profess not to see any cause for concern, Ehgartner finds many level-headed doctors and researchers who are completely convinced of the substance's harmful effects.

If it were eliminated from all consumable goods tomorrow, aluminum would remain an integral part of the modern world -- perfect for everything from soda cans to ultra-modern architecture. After acknowledging these virtues (the film cuts occasionally to tongue-in-cheek advertisements for the miracle material), Ehgartner follows the life cycle of the metal, which is not found in nature in its pure form and requires intense industrial processing to become useful. We see how production is eating up vast swaths of Brazilian rainforest, with caustic runoff and deadly "red mud" turning nearby rivers so nasty that bathers come away with terrible boils. Even when its use is ostensibly pro-environment, it can backfire: We hear of a case in which aluminum was being used to clean drinking water but was discarded improperly, allegedly producing strange cognitive problems for a whole village.

Though the stories and scenes are compelling throughout, the doc's narration suffers from a classroom-like monotony. While this is preferable to the forced chumminess of some environmental docs, it's an unnecessary hindrance in a film that strongly deserves wider exposure than it seems likely to get.

Production Company: Langbein & Partner Media

Director: Bert Ehgartner

Producers: Elisabeth Hinterholzer, Kurt Langbein

Director of photography: Christian Roth

Music: Thomas Hohl

Editor: Angela Freingruber

No rating, 89 minutes