The world’s largest landfill, Jardim Gramacho, lies in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where an eclectic group of local “catadores” — self-assigned pickers of recyclable materials — live, work and play. Jarred by the disconnect between these pickers’ bold creative spirit and the desolate conditions of their lives, acclaimed artist Vik Muniz decided to help. So he set out to change their lives through the very material of their livelihoods, creating powerful portraits of the garbage pickers that hover between dignity and desperation, selling them as high art, and giving all the money back to the community.
Waste Land is British filmmaker Lucy Walker‘s fantastic documentary about this beautiful social experiment, following Vik from his homebase in Brooklyn to his native Brazil for nearly three years as he collaborates with the pickers on these portraits and eventually helps them form a political association that empowers their existence. The film swept Sundance last year, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Thanks, Carr!), and is out on DVD this week.
The moment when one thing transforms into another is the most beautiful moment. That moment is really magical.” ~ Vik Muniz
It’s not just that Waste Land is a beautiful piece of cinematic storytelling. It’s also the kind of film that will make you look a bit more closely at your own life in a heartfelt, non-pedantic way, and maybe, just maybe, make you want to live a richer, fuller life.