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Following in the path of Edvard Munch who said, "I will paint living
people who breathe and feel and suffer and love," artist Vik Muniz
travels from his studio in Brooklyn to Rio de Janeiro to "give back" to
the people of Brazil where he was born and raised. In Lucy Walker's
(Countdown to Zero) inspiring documentary, Waste Land, winner of the
Audience Award for World Cinema Documentary at the Sundance Film
Festival, we are taken inside the squalid landfill known as Jardim
Gramacho on the outskirts of Rio to see the largest garbage dump in the
world where 7,000 tons of Rio's trash is deposited every day. The film
is seen through the eyes of the "pickers," called catadores who live
and work in this squalid environment, eking out a living of $20-25 U.S.
The catadores, who number in the thousands, work under burning hot sun and overpowering odors collecting and selling recyclable materials such as bottles, plastic, and metal to wholesalers and middlemen who turn them into such resalable items as buckets or bumpers for automobiles. Vic Muniz' plan is to select and paint a group of six catadores to pose as photographic subjects that will mimic such classic paintings as "The Death of Marat" by Jacques-Louis David. Money from sales of the resulting art will go to the pickers association for the benefit of the workers. The project included Tiao, the leader of ACAMJG (Association of Collectors of the Metropolitan Landfill of Jardim Gramacho) who went on a hunger strike to dramatize the conditions of the pickers and built an organization that helped create a skills-training center and a medical clinic for the workers.
There was also Zumbi, a member of the association, who began a library from his home from books that had been discarded, Irma, a cook who makes stews and roasts from edible meat to feed the workers, Suelem, an 18-year old girl who has been working in the garbage dump since she was only seven years old, and Valter, an elderly man who entertains with stories and songs and who decides to participate because he believes that "it will raise awareness of all us pickers." Once the initial photographs are made, Muniz projects an enlarged version of each photo onto the floor of his studio and hires the pickers to add refuse from the landfill onto the canvas, photographing the result from overhead. This then becomes the finished art work, ready to be exhibited at auctions and museums around the world with the pickers traveling to such cities as London and New York, the first time they have ever left Gramacho.
Waste Land is not only a biography of an artist, but a look at the artist in the context of the community in which his art is created. Muniz reveals the courage and resilience of the people in spite of their grinding poverty and depressing environment. Many are former middle class residents of the suburbs who chose the life of the picker rather than becoming prostitutes or drug dealers and are happy with their choice. Though Muniz's goal was, "to be able to change the lives of a group of people with the same material that they deal with every day," he never dreamed that his work would impact the lives of the people so dramatically.
Through his efforts, many of the residents who worked for him have changed their life and either reconciled with their families or gone on to more rewarding jobs. Modernization has also begun to take shape at Gramacho. A recycling plant has been built and the workers have been separated into categories for more efficient organization. Though admittedly just a beginning, Muniz has demonstrated that the power of art is available to all people regardless of their circumstances, allowing them to experience their inner beauty and believe in themselves in a new way. Not succumbing to the temptations of melodramatic excess, Waste Land has been shortlisted for an Oscar for Best Documentary and fully deserves to be among the finalists.
The Brazilian artist Vik Muniz rooted in New York decides to make the
difference and travels to Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill of the
world in the outskirt of Rio de Janeiro, with the intention to help the
pickers to improve their lives using his art. Vik recalls an event when
he was very poor and lived in Brazil. He tried to break up a fight
between two men, and he was shot when he was walking to his car. Later
the shooter gave him some money that allowed Vik to travel to USA.
Vik and his friend Fábio spend two years in Jardim Gramacho and get closer to a group of pickers of recyclable materials and takes pictures of them. He uses his talent to make art using recyclable material and photographs the results. Then he travels to London and sells one of the portraits in an auction. With the money, the pickers buy a truck, equipment and build a leaning center and a library. The pickers that worked with him leans how to improve their lives and leave Jardim Gramacho.
"Waste Land" is a must see uplifting documentary that shows another side of Rio de Janeiro unusual in the cinema: the lives of people that earn their lives honestly working in the greatest landfill of the world and how they could improve their lives with social investment.
Vik Muniz gives a lesson to our corrupt politicians that embezzle money that are dedicated to people of the lower classes and shows how it is possible to improve lives using the money properly. His humanitarian work should be publicized worldwide and specially in my country. Maybe in the future, the president and politicians would be outraged not with handcuffed corrupts but with the damage that corruption causes to our people. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Lixo Extraordinário" ("Extraordinary Garbage")
This film is a remarkable surprise! A clever, concerned, screen-grab of homeless lives that gives an ounce hope where one would least expect it. Internationally acclaimed artist, Vik Muniz, is our guide on a journey through garbage, guts, and glamor. With a smile on his face that belies many of the bleak images he shares, he outlines what is, perhaps, an early chapter in the "ecological medical journal" that must be written to save our planet. The characters in Waste Land by far overwhelm this 'preachy' review, and are 1,000 times warmer, to boot -- go see it before it's gone -- to NETFLIX -- As proceeds from your ticket save lives!
Vic Muniz's art has never been as influential as when he decided to
spend 2 years at the world's largest landfill outside of Rio. The
catadores or pickers became his subjects, a ragtag group of
Shakespearean types who love what they do for a living, making
something out of someone else's nothing. Waste land is the title for
this engrossing documentary about art as few have experienced it till
Making a living is what they made until Muniz changed the way they looked a recyclables. He bonded the artifacts with the humans and created memorable portraits of the pickers. A show in London, which they attended, became a catalyst for change in their lives and in the lives of spectators who had no idea Rio's garbage had become Rio's recyclables under the hands of these professional pickers.
Muniz makes sure no one condescends, no one feels sorry for his subjects, some of whom have never known anything but the landfill and others who have chosen it rather than deal drugs or prostitute themselves. Waste Land is as dignified a story about the potential of the poor class to rise out of its garbage and transform it into art and a better life. For this reason, Muniz can stand with the great humanitarians like Albert Schwitzer and Mother Theresa.
I had only heard little about 'Waste Land' and didn't know what to expect other than be introduced to some artworks by Vik Muniz. Also the concept of making art from garbage and involving the garbage pickers who work at the dumpsite got me curious. What I got from this film in the end was far more than what I expected. The camera follows Muniz to the world's largest waste land in Rio de Janeiro. One by one the viewer is introduced to some of the people who work there while Muniz proposes his project to them. The people, who are considered by many, to be of the lowest of classes, are portrayed beautifully as high spirited people, in this film. Just like any other common working human being, the pickers work hard to provide for their families and many of them are quite proud of what they do . There is also a wonderful sense of unity. What Muniz offers them is to be a part of something big, to dream again. It's a sight to behold, when the workers' faces light up as they realize they are becoming/ have become a part of something unique, beautiful and important. These are three adjectives that I'd additionally use to describe this inspiring, insightful and unique gem.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Humans today are defined by the trash we produce. No other population
that has ever lived here has produced the sheer volume of trash that we
have done, in our disposable societies. What are we throwing away? What
happens to it? I think we all sort of know. We just don't like to admit
This is a documentary about Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, successful in the USA, returning to Brazil, north of the city of Rio de Janeiro. In particular, he travels to the world's largest landfill of the day, Jardim Gramacho, where numerous people spent years of their lives digging through the trash for valuable recyclable materials, and a meal. Yes, it's like that. (Fortunately this film isn't about electronic waste...)
But these are not people beaten-down by their position. They pride themselves on the value of their work. As one man says, they recycle everything we miss, because "99 is not 100". We are in a trash crisis and landfills must grow as slowly as possible. Some of the women say they regard the work as honest, in comparison with prostitution. I was surprised they used the word "honest" as opposed to "safe" or "clean".
We're not fooled that these people are pleased about things. But they have self-respect and a sense of humour.
Vik's art apparently involves photographs of objects usually not considered artistic, but arranged in artistic ways. He continues this form at Jardim Gramacho, directing the creation of portraits of the surprisingly educated workers he meets living there. (Books arrive, like everything else, in the trash, affording the pickers opportunities to self-educate.) The very large portraits are created on a floor using the materials Vik's subjects work with, mostly various forms of recyclable plastic. These are then photographed and shrunk down to something around 2' x 3'.
The film could get a bit wobbly when Vik's team realizes that the expectations of his subjects may be higher than he can deliver. They want their lives improved. But it works out. Vik takes his subjects to see their plastic-portrait-photos exhibited and sold for eye-popping amounts of money. It's refreshing to see that even as Vik understands how to manipulate and respect the art world, he also understands how ludicrous it is. I'm not sure what percentage went to the subjects, but they were able to use the money to better their lives in various ways, and to better the whole community of trash pickers (who prefer "recyclable material pickers" because they don't keep the trash). Copies of the photos are then returned to the original subjects, for display in their own homes.
You think I just spoiled it right? (But I did warn you). Still, it really has to be seen to be believed and understood. These are wonderful people, in unpleasant circumstances that are more common, and easier to fall into, than we'd like to admit.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The first part of this movie has modern Brazilian artist Vik Muniz
(based in New York) visiting Jardim Gramacho, one of the world's
largest garbage dumps, near Rio de Janeiro. We are introduced to some
of the "pickers" who sort through the giant mountains of trash for
recyclable materials. One of the messages of the movie for me was to
see that the pickers, while living tough lives, are pretty normal
people, many with families. Most of them are quite philosophical about
their jobs, feeling that they are doing a useful and needed service and
getting paid on the order of $20 a day. This first part of the film
disabuses you of any stereotypes you may have of the people working in
About a third of the way in it looked to me like this was going to be more of the same, seeing Muniz photograph more workers and talking with them. That was interesting enough, but if that was all that was going to happen, I was on the verge of bailing out. But then I found out what Muniz was really trying to do, which was to create an art work. He projected his photos onto the floor of a large hall, enlarged to a size of about 100 feet by 100 feet. Then he had the subjects of the photos bring in materials from the dump and arrange them artistically around the photo outlines on the floor. The final product was a photo of the arrangements on the floor. Seeing how the people reacted to their artistic efforts was when I became truly taken in. From there the movie held many surprises.
Muniz pledged to contribute all monies from the art works resulting from this project ($250,000 at the time of filming) to the improvement of the lives of the pickers. The effect that the experience of working on this project had on the pickers was most interesting. It changed their lives, and the life of Muniz as well--to his surprise. I particularly liked the part where Muniz visits his childhood home in São Paulo and notes that, absent an accident in his youth that had fortuitous consequences, he could easily picture himself as having wound up among the pickers, instead of being a financially successful New York artist. There was an engaging dialog between Muniz and his wife as to whether lives had been changed for the better.
The photography often reveals an artist's eye and there is is some original music by Moby that enhances the experience.
I don't think I have ever seen a better example of the trans-formative power of art. This film, that I thought was going to be a downer, turned out to be inspiring.
In one of the several memorable sequences in 'Waste Land' world famous
artist Vik Muniz teaches his audiences about looking at art in a
museum. People tend, he tells them, to get closer to the painting, then
farther, then closer, then farther again, several times. When they are
far away they get the overall idea of the art work. When they get close
they try to understand how it is made. From far they see the idea. From
close they see the matter.
The great idea of the documentary directed by Lucy Walker is to describe the process of creation in which the subjects are the Brazilian garbage pickers, called 'catadores' while the matter is the recyclable materials extracted from the huge garbage ground called 'Jardim Gramacho', which gathers most of the waste of the huge metropolis of Rio de Janeiro. However this is only the inner circle of this smart film, as the first part describes the search that triggers the project in which the artist explores the space of the big garbage dump. At first it looks like one of its work, a square on the map, getting closer men seem to be visible at the dimensions of ants, then zooming in we discover a full human landscape composed of people who may be working physically in garbage but they do it with pride and dignity and a sense of purpose of their work and its benefits for the overall good of the community. The human dimensions of the characters discovered by Muniz are best material on which relies the quality of his art and the quality of the film director Walker made about the process of creating his art.
'Waste Land' is beautifully filmed, the characters are well chosen, and one can say that garbage never looked so beautiful and full of colors and the garbage people never looked so clean and sexy as in this film. There is one more ethical question that needs to be asked about the realization of this documentary. By picking a few of the people of 'Jardim Gramacho' and making them for a few months part of the artistic creation process, Muniz, Walker and their teams took them out of the social medium they were living in and exposed them not only to art, to better work conditions, but also to the broader world living at a very different pace, social relations and living standards. Even as the money raised from the selling of the works returned to the people involved and to the social activities in the 'garbage garden' I could not ask whether the human involved will be able to get back to their previous work, or even as they use some of the cash earned for the participation in the project will they be able to overcome the short glimpse they witnessed of the world of glamor of art trade? Although Walker's documentary tried to give a rather positive answer to this question I could not avoid a slight suspicion of manipulation, or at least of a self-righteous perspective of the facts as they were presented. But maybe I am just over-concerned, or maybe Muniz and Walker are right in their approach, and the path to help the under-privileged of this world starts not with 99 or 100 of the lucky ones enrolling to help, but with the first of the 100.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I loved this film for its beauty.
Waste Land helped build my understanding and appreciation of modern art from almost zero aside from MIT's Walter Lewin lecture on Modern Art - who is adamant that modern art is supposed to be "ugly" and change the way one looks at things. Vic Muniz, the artist in the film takes this further by explaining how to look at art: stand back to get the idea, get closer to look at the materials and detail the artist uses.
Vic uses the same technique to get to know the landscape and the subjects of his film first looking at them from aerial photos/plane and then on the ground. Astonishing how this transforms the subjects and landscape from a rubbish tip to beautiful and inspiring people and works of art. His subjects were totally in tune and connected with their environment in the landfill.
By the end of the film even Vic's wonderful, tasteful, designer home in NY looked like a slightly more orderly version of his subject's favelas.
An moving documentary highlighting the transformative power of art, and the beauty of the human spirit. Top-selling contemporary artist Vik Muniz rooted in New York decides to give back to a community where he was born and raised. He travels to Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill in the world on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. With the intention to help the pickers to improve their lives using his art, what starts as an introduction to the devastating poverty and lack of infrastructure in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, begins to transform into a story of unrelenting spirit, strength, and inspiration. Perhaps director Lucy Walker initially intended to make the film about Muniz. If so, her subject led her to a better one; as he returns to Rio to photograph pickers for a series of portraits, she begins to focus on their lives. We see where they live, we meet their families, we hear their stories, we learn of the society and economy they have constructed around Jardim Gramacho, the "Garbage Garden." Zumbi, a member of the association, who began a library from his home from books that had been discarded, Irma, a cook who makes stews and roasts from edible meat to feed the workers, Suelem, an 18-year old girl who has been working in the garbage dump since she was only seven years old, and Valter, an elderly man who entertains with stories and songs and who decides to participate because he believes that "it will raise awareness of all us pickers." Once the initial photographs are made, Muniz projects an enlarged version of each photo onto the floor of his studio and hires the pickers to add refuse from the landfill onto the canvas, photographing the result from overhead. This then becomes the finished art work, ready to be exhibited at auctions and museums around the world-- with the pickers traveling to such cities as London and New York, the first time they have ever left Gramacho. (Heavily debated decision and the possible ramifications.) Life is unpredictable that way. "Waste Land" is a testament that things can go from good to bad in an instant. But they can also improve just as quickly. A social documentary based around a self reliant community of people disregarded and largely ignored, who find unrealized beauty in their everyday work, modern art, and in themselves. I can never again put out my recycling bin without giving thought to how much more this film communicates than just that.
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