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Photo: Icarus Films

Written & Directed by
Hartmut Bitomsky
Produced by
Heino Deckert
Released by Icarus Films
German with English subtitles
Germany/Switzerland. 90 min. Not Rated

Dust will give you plenty to think about the next time you get around to cleaning those bunnies out from under your bed. Director Hartmut Bitomsky tells you everything you ever wanted to know about dust (the smallest particle visible to the naked eye is a tenth of a millimeter), and even more than you ever thought possible.

He starts from air brushing particles from his camera lens, which can damage film, and extensively interviews those charged with the endless task of eliminating such buildup—a determined hausfrau, office cleaners, careful museum conservators, and enthusiastic manufacturers hawking their filtering wares. But he also spins his camera skyward to analyze how earth’s essential and beautiful clouds are made possible by dust.

Much of the film veers between PBS extremes, taking us along Mister Rogers-like field trips to factories that produce every day objects (paint pigment and vacuum cleaners) and Nova-type of explorations as earnest scientists—botanists, doctors, meteorologists, and cosmologists—speak with zeal about their speck of expertise.

While Bitomsky doesn’t quite rise to the philosophical musings of lyrical documentary filmmaker Chris Marker (The Case Of The Grinning Cat), the interdisciplinary eye he brings to the subject is staggeringly thorough, accompanied by appropriate program music. He finds the beauty in an abandoned factory covered in leavings and the billowing patterns in coal strip mining, similar to Edward Burtynsky’s photographs seen in Manufactured Landscapes. He sees both the dangers and marvels of motes, from the environmental and health impacts of pollution to the importance of dust as the elemental building block for the universe.

While the German title is Staub, “schmutz” is heard a lot (as well as variations of “kleine,” meaning small), making one wonder if zealous Germans have more terms for dust than are available in the English language. Or it could just be that one’s mind wanders during the long interviews with specialists rattling off data and statistics, particularly as no speaker is identified during the film. Nora Lee Mandel
December 3, 2008



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