Junk metal is both an indictment of our consumer society and beautiful to shoot
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | Oct. 13, 2022
Environmentally minded documentaries have been preaching to the choir for about two decades, and their effectiveness has been waning. If An Inconvenient Truth made US$24 million in 2006, the sequel in 2017 barely scored US$3.5 million. By now, if you don’t know the world is about to collapse in a hundred possible ways, it’s because you’re hiding your head in the sand.
Here lies the genius of Scrap. A gorgeous, warm travelogue by first-time feature filmmaker Stacey Tenenbaum, the doc chronicles what happens with metal when it’s no longer of use — at least, to those without imagination.
Tenenbaum visits metal graveyards around the world that hold everything from the predictable (junk cars and electronics) to the emblematic (red British phone booths, now facing extinction because of smart phones). The operators call themselves collectors, preservers and restorers, and they all feel a connection with discarded metal.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, Scrap is not only about scrap. In a Bangkok junkyard occupied by scrapped jumbo jets, Tenenbaum discovers a family living in a plane’s fuselage. The emergency shelter works better than it has any right to. In Spain, parts of discarded cargo ships are rescued and sent to Seoul to become part of a church under construction. In India, we witness dozens of women make a living by rescuing and recycling e-waste (and wonder how safe it is).
Make no mistake: this movie has the environment in mind, but it’s subtle about it. First, it creates awareness of people for whom scrap is a living and a lifestyle (whether they chose it or not). Second, you can’t help but recall every car, bike or appliance you owned and discarded and wonder if you did the best you could to recycle it. By making the subject personal, Scrap makes it universal. ■