In the Picture

Waste Land

Directed by Lucy Walker, Jaoa Jardim and Karen Harley

Rated PG


Waste Land is a film that shows how art can REALLY change people's lives. But much more than that it is a movie that succeeds on so many different levels. There is a considerable emotional power to this story, which is both challenging and inspiring, and absolutely compelling.

This multi award-winning documentary was filmed over three years by English director Lucy Walker with co-directors Joao Jardim and Karen Harley. Walker's previous feature docos include Devil's Playgound, Blindsight and Countdown to Zero, and her latest, The Cherry Blossom and the Tsunami.

Waste Land documents the incredible journey and endeavours of the successful Brazilian-born, New York-based artist, sculptor, photographer and humanitarian Vik Muniz in creating art in co-operation with the scavengers of recyclables eking out an existence at Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest garbage landfill, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Muniz was born to a poor family in Sao Paulo, and he returns to his roots in this fascinating story. There is something almost angelic about Muniz's character. Modest and sensitive, he is an artist determined to give something back to the impoverished people of his homeland.

The film portrays the lives and working conditions of the 'catadores' or pickers who make their living by sorting out the recyclable materials from the mountains of garbage. Muniz works with them to create large-scale portraits of the pickers using all manner of recyclables, and the results are spectacular. The artworks are then sold at auctions in London and also exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in Sao Paulo.

Waste Land is a wonderful story of human dignity and empowerment. The pickers are not just disparate people, they are a community, and Muniz's creations have a far-reaching effect on the people involved; moreover the money raised goes to projects to enhance their lives and the world around them.

There is a captivating pride and respect in the eclectic characters in Waste Land, and a strong ethos about recycling and care for the environment. Some of the 'catadores' are nothing short of inspiring: the Machievelli-quoting Zumbi, the sage Vatter who's worked at Gramacho for 26 years, Irma cooking beef stew on open fires amidst the garbage, or young mother Suelem who's worked there since she was seven. There is a haunting nobility to these people, and they are treated most sensitively by the artist.

Waste Land is an outstanding statement about the transformative power of art on people, and about survival and resilience amongst some of the world's poorest. This is a fabulous must-see documentary.


Waste Land will be screened at the Star Court Theatre this Sunday, February 19, at 5.30pm.

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