Waste Land

WASTE LAND Official Trailer from Almega Projects on Vimeo.

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.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.


  1. Mankind will always find a way to survive even on the most unthinkable environments. I’m not sure if this is specific to us, but Brazil has a sort of underground garbage trade – underground not as in illegal, but as something society doesn’t really want to aknowledge.

    At the most poor regions, namely the northeastern part of the country, people roam the streets with handcarts and scavenging thrash cans for all sorts of materials worth sellign for. Mostly recycables, but sometimes they find something else, like furniture or eletronics. It also happens at outdoors festivals and concerts, where they usually collect soda and beer cans in huge plastic trash bags.

    It’s not pretty, but it’s a way to bypass social rejection and to stay away from criminality. Most people are fine with letting those modern day mascates handle their trash, albeit not really considering them as equals.

    And oh, you should see their Waste Land’s print ads! The one I saw was a ragged and folder magazine page, with the documentary’s logo inside it. Pretty artsy.

  2. Thanks for sharing there, Bruno – it sounds an absolutely fascinating part of the culture, and it’s a shame they are not really considered equals. One of the fine things about the Waste Land film was showing their pride at their chosen jobs. It was really admirable.

  3. I often think morals and family values are stronger among the most unfortunate people. Albeit not the most desirable occupation, they really take pride in coming home with dirty hands and some cartons of milk. Reminds me of those old sailors and how manual work used to be highly regarded in the past.

    If you think it’s fascinating, you should look further into the culture, up to their living rooms. Social strata dictates neighborhoods by such an extent that hard working people mingle with criminals. They don’t want to be there, but that’s as much as they can afford.

    It makes me wonder if that also helps building their character. Many people living near poverty (but still struggling with their own hands, like you’ve seen in the doc) are surprisingly honest and straightforward.

  4. “I often think morals and family values are stronger among the most unfortunate people.” It certainly seemed that way, yes. When you’re on the edge of existence, you perhaps get your family’s priorities in the right order.

    Their dreams and ambitions, too, seemed very dignified – even if it was simply for their children to have a better career then they did themselves.