Zhao Liang’s experimental documentary Behemoth, which had its first West Coast screening on Monday October 17, exposes the horrific impact of rapid industrialization and over-development. The unflinching camera lingers on jarring juxtapositions found in Inner Mongolia’s coal mining pits and iron works. Flocks graze on summer-green steppes just beyond the looming edge of the mine, where an endless succession of hulking diesel trucks rumbles past heaping rock and excavated dirt onto the pristine grass. A wide-eyed, chubby toddler plays in the dirt while industrial machines tear up the ground behind him.
In the post-screening discussion on Monday night, Zhao Liang revealed that the idea for using Dante’s Inferno as a framework for his documentary came about organically. For him, descending into these brutal environments – lightless black coal mines miles underground and iron smelting pits choked with spitting flames and clouds of thick smoke – felt like entering Hell itself. He hoped that by presenting these images of destruction and human suffering, people would reexamine the business and lifestyle choices that perpetuate this exploitation of people and the environment.