A Powerful Story of Art and Humanity
Take a look into your trash can and what do you see? Junk mail. Used paper towels. The remnants of last night’s salmon mixing with stale turnips. Now imagine your entire living room filled three feet deep with the stuff. Every ten minutes, your window opens and more is dumped inside. To reach the remote, you have to climb over piles of refuse. Now pretend you need to pick through it to survive. Locate empty plastic bottles, old car parts and other recyclables to pay the bills.
Now try smiling through the whole ordeal.
The above isn’t pure fiction. It’s a way of life for thousands at Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill on the face of the planet. Called “pickers”, these people live their lives amongst the filth, bagging up what we throw away. Waste Land is the documentary of renowned Brazilian artist Vik Muniz’s attempt to capture this area and these people with some truly original works of art.
On the surface, this looks like a standard art documentary. Famous for using unconventional materials to create exquisite photographs, the doc tracks Muniz’s idea of taking garbage and making art from it. To do so, he travels to Rio de Janeiro to the aforementioned landfill to realize his vision on a grand scale.
The beauty of Waste Land is in how it never gets in the way of Muniz’s journey. Docs are tricky business. A filmmaker can follow someone around for years and never find a narrative thread. Director Lucy Walker wisely lets the artists do the talking and, more importantly, the people he encounters along the way. Without giving anything away, Muniz quickly discovers his muse among the pickers and starts to tell their story through a series of stunning works of art. While the pieces stand alone as incredibly beautiful achievements, knowing the people who inspired them make the work even more emotionally vibrant. Walker augments this journey through smart interviews, patient camerawork and an eye for stunning photography.
While much of the film’s beauty is in the work of Muniz, the documentary’s soul lies elsewhere. It’s the quest of creative discovery and the positive impact his pieces make on the workers that makes the picture special. Thoughtful and patient, Waste Land is a beautifully filmed window into the human spirit and the transformative power of art. Nominated for a Best Documentary Oscar in 2010, Waste Land will excite your senses and make your heart swell with the pure personal wonder of it all. Not bad for acres of trash and a bunch of people picking it.
Score – 9.5 out of 10