A sprawling Rio landfill is the star in \ unsettling but unforgettable documentary 'Waste Land'.
Jardim Gramacho is the world's largest landfill located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. It's also a leading character in director Lucy Walker's unsettling but ultimately inspiring documentary "Waste Land", making its world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz uses garbage from the landfill to create photographs of the people who work there as "Catadores" or "pickers", laborers who retrieve recyclable garbage from the Rio landfill for $25 per day. Lucy Walker filmed "Waste Land" over three years and her efforts have paid off in an incredible journey. "Waste Land' is about more than Muniz's artwork, although his large-scale photographs are worthy of a documentary. What Walker tells is the most powerful of human stories; how an artist can inspire those who are down and out. Muniz's journey and the friendships he forms with these "pickers" are fascinating and undeniably inspirational. Strong reviews out of Sundance and good word-of-mouth make "Waste Land" a pick-up with good specialty box office potential as well as a prestigious addition to any specialty distributor's slate of films.
In his best-known series to date, Muniz uses sugar to create images of children of poor Caribbean plantation workers. Titled "Sugar Children", Muniz's photos found something beautiful in his young subjects suffering in poverty. His project in "Waste Land" is far more expansive and incredibly impressive.
Leaving behind his Brooklyn studio, Muniz travels to Rio and befriends some of the 3,000 Gramacho "pickers". As he creates large- scale photographs of elaborate installations made from the trash, Muniz forms a relationship with some of the "pickers". He grew up poor too; so he can relate to these "pickers". While his artwork is transcendent, Walker wisely emphasizes the growing intimacy between Muniz and the "pickers". As their story takes shape, "Waste Land" becomes more than the account of a artist's incredible project involving grim industrial landscapes (Think Jennifer Baichwal's "Manufactured Landscapes", about photographer Edward Burtynsky.
Instead, "Waste Land", in the World Cinema Documentary competition, shares much in common with Agnes Varda's timeless film "The Gleaners", about rural French farmers who harvest the remaining crops at the end of the growing season.
While there is plenty to criticize about Brazil concerning its practices involving its poverty and pollution, Walker and editor Pedro Kos focus on how art can transform and inspire all who enter its community. Cinematographer Dudu Miranda creates great beauty out of the massive landfill but "Waste Land" is not about the landfill per se. Instead, Walker has creates the story of an affable artist and the hopeful impact he makes on their lives by introducing them to art. Popular songs from Moby complement the story perfectly. If there is one misstep, Walker yanks at the heartstrings in a closing sequence that updates the lives of all the "pickers". Still, it's a slight, sentimental misstep in a film that delivers on all the promise Walker displayed in her little-seen Tibetan documentary Blindsight. Perhaps, Muniz and the "pickers" will bring Walker newfound attention with U.S. specialty film fans, especially fans of socio-political docs. She's certainly deserving of increased recognition.
Portuguese/English with English subtitles
Producers: Almega Projects and O2 Filmes Production
Running Time: 98 mins.