July 5, 2013

Waste Land

Lucky Walker, Karen Harley & Joao Jardim - 2010

Vik Muniz, world-famous artist, decides to travel to his home country of Brazil for a large art project set in the vast Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro. What follows is a well-detailed film about the less fortunate people of Brazil who finally get some well-deserved attention.

An inspiring, thorough documentary that really captures the evidence of deep-rooted poverty in Brazil. At times emotionally moving, Muniz decides to try and capture a more ignored side of humanity. There is a large group of poor people that pick through heaps of unfiltered garbage in the land-fill in an effort to separate the recyclables to redeem them for what adds up to about twenty dollars per day. Muniz informs the people that he would like to profile them in an art exhibit, sell the artwork, and give 100% of the revenue back to the people. As Vik starts the interviewing process, he starts to see the similarities with the pickers and his own past - where he grew up poor conditions himself. There's a wide spectrum of personalities at Jardim Gramacho - from the mother who lost her son at age 3, to the uneducated elder who has been picking for 26 years. They all have a story, and they have a sympathetic quality to them. It's inspiring that although they may be waist deep in society's waste day in and day out, they have a sense of integrity and pride in their work. You see that these people, while uneducated, have a real hunger for knowledge. They scour through the trash, and when they find books they clean them off and bring them home. One of the men has even read War and Peace. The pickers have a sharp eye. By examining ones trash, they realize you can find out a lot about that person. Their social status, their occupation, their overall health condition.

One memorable point in the film is when Vik has a group of pickers in his studio. He describes the person at the museum - the person who stands back from the wall and looks at the art, and then bends forward to look at the material up close. As you get closer to a painting, it begins to lose its appeal when you see the detail. As you move away, you see the beauty. It's an important concept, because it can so accurately portray these people and their conditions. From a distance (such as when Vik is viewing the landfill from Google Earth at his Brooklyn studio), they appear to be desperate trash-dwellers. You get closer, as he does, and you start to see the qualities of the people. Vik Muniz selflessly changed the lives of the people of Jardim Gramacho, and it's really inspiring to see him give back to his hometown.

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