Lucy Walker’s documentary, Waste Land, is remarkable. It’s intentions first seem to be a portrait of Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Vik Muniz, and his journey to the world’s largest garbage dump – Jardim Gramacho, situated on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There Muniz seeks to make portraits of catadores, who scour the landfill in an effort to harvest recyclable materials: “We are not pickers of garbage, we are pickers of recyclable materials. Garbage can’t be reused, whereas recyclable materials can.”
Muniz’s efforts become one of providing, through art, a remarkable glimpse into the true lives of those who exist proudly on the landfill. It’s hard to really pinpoint the emotions that are brought up here, just observing these incredibly inspirational people doing everyday things, treading where most of us wouldn’t dare treat. Their humanity is brought to the fore in a deep and powerful manner, and Muniz encourages acknowledgement of beauty in the most unlikely of places. They become the true subjects of both the art and the documentary.
The film has noble aims, of course: the art, based on recycled materials and intimate portraits of those catadores, is sold to raise money, which is then reinvested in community schemes. A heart-warming and appropriate end. It really is worth watching.
There’s more information on the Waste Land website.