Like all ideological tracts, Allan Sekula and Noel Burch’s “The Forgotten Space” turns complex situations into simple, even simplistic, overstatements. Will it come as a surprise to anyone that workers don’t control the means of production? An excellent idea — exploring the forgotten spaces of maritime trade, specifically the sweeping revolution brought about by the shipping container — is drowned amid very tired Marxist theory. Despite winning the Horizons Special Jury prize in Venice, this “film essay” will quickly fall into a forgotten space of its own.

Sekula’s overwritten narration, with its fair share of whoppers, does his argument no favors, overwhelming genuinely interesting statistics. Starting in Rotterdam, the helmers travel the globe interviewing workers affected by changes in maritime trade, but the focus keeps getting blurred by general platitudes on capitalism. Viewers will wonder why down-and-outers in a California tent city are even here, and a final swipe against elitism at Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum is just plain uninformed. A few classic movie clips speak to Burch’s position as grand old man of film theory, and several striking images, especially the mosaic pattern of multicolored containers on a ship’s prow, are appealing.

The Forgotten Space


  • Production: A Doc.Eye Film, Wildart Film production. Produced by Frank van Reemst, Joost Verheij. Co-producers, Vincent Lucassen, Ebba Sinzinger. Directed, written by Allan Sekula, Noel Burch.
  • Crew: Camera (color, Digibeta, DV, Super 16, HD), Attila Boa, Wolfgang Thaler; editor, Menno Boerema; music, Riccardo Tesi, Louis Andriessen. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 9, 2010. Running time: 116 MIN.
  • With: Narrator: Allan Sekula. (English, Dutch, Spanish, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia, Cantonese, Mandarin dialogue)