Uplifting documentary Waste Land profiles world’s largest rubbish dump
- Tom Dawson
- 18 February 2011
British film on garbage artist Vik Muniz features score by Moby
‘I like to take people into places they can’t access on their own’, is how British documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker (Blindsight, plus the forthcoming Countdown to Zero) recently described her films. Her Oscar-nominated Waste Land transports the viewer to the Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro, the world’s largest rubbish dump, which receives 7000 tons of trash per day.
This is the setting for a remarkable creative collaboration between Brazilian-born and Brooklyn-based garbage artist Vik Muniz and several impoverished catadores (recyclers), who live and work at this location. They include labour organiser Tiao, resident cook Irma, book-loving Zumbi, teenage single mother Suleem and fashion-conscious Isis. It’s these individuals who act as models for Muniz’s recreations of classic paintings such as The Death of Marat and The Parable of the Sower, which are then transformed with their assistance into large-scale photographs to be exhibited in galleries.
Walker displays a genuine concern for the daily struggles and aspirations of her subjects, whilst Muniz and his wife express their worries about how sudden success and fame might impact on these peoples’ lives. Powered by a soundtrack by Moby, Waste Land engages a range of visual perspectives on the enormous and teeming Gramacho site: it’s photographed from the air (ensuring that the humans resemble ants scuttling across giant mounds of rubbish), by car, and on foot. Ultimately this is an uplifting work, which demonstrates how art can transform lives and self-perceptions, even if the end credits indicate the future for many of these catadores remains very uncertain.