Almost three years in the making, this
recent outing from renowned documentarian Lucy Walker (Devil’s
Playground, Blindsight) has received a unanimously rapturous
response, currently holding a 100% approval rating on the aggregate
review site Rotten Tomatoes and widely hailed as a compelling,
thought-provoking and ultimately uplifting celebration of the
transformative power of artistic expression.
The film follows renowned New York based
artist Vik Muniz as he travels back to his homeland of Brazil, or more
specifically to the titular waste land of Jardim Gramarcho, one of the
world’s largest landfills. The acres-wide dump collected 70% of the
waste of the city of Rio, and among its army of workers were a group
known colloquially as pickers. Employed by various Brazilian firms to
harvest recyclables from the mountains of trash, they spent their days
sorting through piles of refuse, working, eating and sleeping on the
singularly pungent site itself or renting shacks in the nearby shanty
towns, a favourite refuge of drug dealers, gunmen and lowlifes.
Over the course of the two years Muniz grew
close with many of Jardim Gramarcho’s central characters, photographing
them and inviting them to help construct giant murals from the detritus
of the landfill. The resultant artworks were then sold at auction, and
altogether raised over a quarter of a million dollars for the pickers,
their families and their collective the ACAMJG.
Waste Land is a work of
extraordinary poignancy, and the journey one takes in watching these
humbled people experience the redemptive power of art is truly magical.