Sunday, July 25, 2010


By D.E.Levine

A Premiere Brazil selection of the Museum of Modern Art, NYC

Director: Lucy Walker
Co-directors: Karen Harley and Joao Jardim
Writer: Ad-libbed
Cast: Vic Muniz et al.
Producers: Angus Aynsley and Hank Levine
Executive Producers: Jackie De Botton, Miel De Botton and Fernando Meirelles
Co-producer: Peter Martin
associate Producer: Emilia Mello
Original Music: Moby
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Country of Origin: United Kingdom/Brazil
Language: Portuguese and English with English subtitles
Genre: Documentary

This film is a remarkable achievement. Made over a span of nearly three years Waste Land has been winning awards consistently at film festivals like. In 2010 it's already won the Audience Award for Best World Cinema Documentary (Sundance), the Audience Award for Best Film, Panorama (Berlin), Audience Award (Full Frame Film Documentary), Target Documentary Filmmaker Award (Dallas), Golden Space Needle Award (Seattle) and Audience Award (Provincetown).

Give it time, because the year is only half over and the film doesn't open in the United States until October 2010. There's every possibility, based on its popularity and the momentum its picking up, that Waste Land could win an Orange Award and even an Academy Award this year.

What is Waste Land? It's not your usual documentary about reclaiming the earth, living in harmony with nature, or eating correctly. Instead, Waste Land is about people, their dignity and despair and the indomitable human spirit.

Vic Muniz, one of the most popular Brazilian artists/photographers, who now lives in Brooklyn, New York, returned to his native Brazil to photograph the people who work and live in Jardim Gramacho.

For those unfamiliar with Jardim Gramacho it's the largest land fill (i.e. garbage dump) in the world and 2,500 people, known as catadores, spend their days picking out recyclables.

They pay to live in deplorable, rat infested shacks and frequently face embarrassment in the eyes of others because of the odors they carry from the dump.

Neither Muniz and his associates nor director Walker, expected the events that occurred during the filming.

The film is an amazing collaboration between artists and workers. Instead of simply photographing his subjects, Muniz hired several catadores to help him recreate their images on a grand scale, out of recyclable materials, and then photographed the images from above.

What he found in working with the catadores is that they displayed great intelligence and humor, and a deep understanding of the importance of recycling and how recycling even one can or plastic container can make a difference. Additionally, they displayed pride in their work and pride in themselves.

The artist and filmmaker also discovered an amazing young man, working in the Jardim since he was 11, who had started a union for the workers and was determined to better their plight by providing education, a library, computers and other benefits. The fact that he was personable and photogenic helped everyone involved in both the documentary and the union.

Known for creating portraits using unusual substances, Muniz is perhaps best know for his "Sugar Children". However, after this film he may be even better known for his involvement with garbage.

It may sound strange that a topic like a garbage dump can invoke camaraderie and friendship, but in this case the dump, the garbage and the art that results forms invincible bonds and highlights the fact that art is indeed stranger than fiction as three catadores who are spotlighted show how participation in the project transformed their lives.

The project and the resulting film are creative and uplifting. More than that they balance hope with reality. You couldn't write this story. It's so genuine that it has to be real.

Genre: Documentary