Waste Land (2010) – Documentary Review

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Waste Land – Movie Review of Waste Land – 2010
The Intersection of Art and Life

Acclaimed Brooklyn, NY-based artist Vik Muniz returns to his native country of Brazil, where he embarks upon a remarkable creative journey with a group of men and women who toil as catadores (garbage pickers) at Jardim Gramacho, a Rio de Janiero landfill.

The catadores spend their work days digging through muck and gore, extracting stuff they can recycle, earning $20 to $25 per day to support their families.

Muniz taps several men and women for his art project — to photograph them, then work with them to convert their images into huge collages created from trash — which will be exhibited in his New York gallery.

Finding Beauty in Unexpected Places

Before selecting his cast, Muniz photographs extensively at Jardim Gramacho. Filmmaker Lucy Walker follows him, filming him as he shoots, and capturing the essence of the environment so truthfully you can practically smell the place. Huge garbage truck roll in, upend their containers and, as garbage avalanches from them, garbage pickers scamper up the rising mountains of waste to glean anything that can be recycled and sold.

When Muniz picks his characters, Walker follows them on the job and in off hours, providing us with details that give us insight and make us care deeply about each of them.

Each is strong, personable, dignified and beautiful, and has a good story to tell. There is the older man who’s been on the job since he was a child, and who feels he plays an important role in society by recycling stuff that would otherwise clog the rivers and spoil the land, and a younger man who’s organized the catadores’ union to fight for fair compensation, build libraries and boost morale. An older woman feeds the workers at a small restaurant she’s established in the middle of the dump. A single mom explains that she chose garbage picking over prostitution when she came to Rio to earn enough to house, feed and educate the kids she left with her family in the countryside. Another young women confesses that she hates the dump, but will continue working as a catadore until she finds her way to a pleasanter, better paying job.

The Transformative Nature of Art

Muniz is an art hero. He transports the catadores to his studio, an entirely new physical and mental environment for them. He invites them to participate in his creative process. Together they make art.

As we witness the evolution of images from garbage dump to photograph to collage, we see the deepening friendship between Muniz and the workers, and the flowering of everyone’s creativity. The process is amazing, inspiring, transformational.

When the works of art are displayed, the catadores are there to be honored by the public and interviewed by the press. They say their lives are changed, elevated forever.

Waste Land is a testimony to the transformational nature of art in people’s lives. Lucy Walker is an extraordinarily sensitive and caring filmmaker who not only chooses inspiring subjects, but consistently reveals the inner strength and dignity of her characters, showing that people in difficult circumstances can accomplish great things if given the chance to do so. Walker’s a compelling storyteller, and all of her finest qualities as a filmmaker are present in this wonderful documentary.


Title: Waste Land
Director: Lucy Walker
Release Date: Premiere at 2010 Sundance Film Festival
Running Time: 98 mins.
Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
Country: UK, Brazil
Locations: Brazil, New York City
Language: Portuguese
Production Company: Almega Projects
Distribution Company: Arthouse Films
Official Website

If You Like This Film, You Might Also Like:

Garbage Dreams
My Kid Could Paint That
Jean-Michel Basquiat: Radiant Child
Afghan Star
The Cool School

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