Waste Land ... a documentary directed by Lucy Walker


Description from Netflix: "Vik Muniz -- Renowned artist Vik Muniz joins creative forces with Brazilian catadores -- garbage pickers who mine treasure from the trash heaps of Rio de Janeiro."




Walker tells the tale of Vik Muniz, who combines heart and eye as he explores the artistic possibilities in the largest landfill in the world, located in Rio de Janeiro. Muniz approaches the work with an intent to give back; he grew up poor in Brazil and felt that he wanted to do something to help the working poor. He chose this outpost, this place of refuse, and struck gold in its people, the pickers.

The camera eye doesn't focus on the landscape, though there's no escaping the mounds of garbage that make the very ground jello-like. Instead, Muniz trains his lens on the workers and their life stories. At first, they don't know what to make of him or the crew. They think he's with the Discovery Channel, doing some sort of project on garbage. As the documentary unfolds, we hear the bits and pieces of the lives of these men and women and how they came to spend their days wading through what is tossed aside, with the aim of finding what's redeemable. As they're picking through the mounds of freshly delivered tons of garbage, brought in by the truckful and pushed around with compactors, you can't help but imagine the fresh attack on the olfactory system with each new arrival.

With this overpowering setting, it's the stories that begin to take hold as Muniz concentrates on hearing each individual life story and taking portrait photos on site. We are brought inside to witness their hopes and dreams, and we also hear of their losses. Because Muniz is so direct with them, and obviously so respectful and genuine, they trust him, even if they don't quite know what he's doing. What he is doing is transformational: he takes the detritus around him and turns it into art. The landscape of trash, and the pickers concerns, are placed on a huge canvas as their portraits come to life in the very pieces of garbage.

I was awed by Muniz' work; by the changes he brought to the lives of these people in holding a mirror to their beauty. It's astounding.


Highly recommended!