26 April 2011

Documentary: Waste Land

Waste Land (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1268204/

Artist Vik Muniz decided to  to undertake a new art project that would the make the world aware of Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.  He also chose to highlight the catadores, the folks that pick through the landfill daily for recyclable materials, making a meager living off of their pickings.  Vik starts off meeting catadores and taking their pictures and listening to their stories. He then enlists the help of a few of them to work with him to make giant mosaic representations of the best of the photos taken.  Basically the photo would be projected on the floor and under Vik's guidance the catadores would fill out the image with recyclable items brought to the studio from the landfill. Once a giant image was constructed a large-format photo was taken from a height.

You can see some images from the film at http://www.wastelandmovie.com/gallery.html

The documentary isn't only about his process. We meet the people Vik meets. We learn about their lives, and we see how their lives change while they assist Vik in crafting the giant images in the studio.  While transforming trash into art we see how the people themselves transform as a result of the artistic process.  They move from living a life of accepting the status quo to rejecting the life they've been living and striking out to make a life better for themselves.

The end result? Good art that sells well at auction, proceeds from those sales go back into helping the catadore community, and we see good people improve their lives along the way too. You get to care about these folks as you learn their past and present lives, and you get to see what sort of future this art project opens for them.

This documentary works so well because we as an audience get to follow the process and project from its inception to execution and into the payoff. It is edited together well, moves at a good pace that doesn't tire the viewer. The wide shots probably can't capture the immense size of this landfill and do it justice, the tight shots put you right next to the catadores. Conversations in Portuguese are subtitled for us English speakers, and there are some long stretches of Portuguese so be prepared to do some reading.  As a viewer immersed in the film I forgot I was reading captions while I watched, so it isn't a bother.

If you're a sort that enjoys a good documentary with a positive message from time to time, check this one out.

If you happened to watch Bravo's "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" you'll be pleased to see Simon de Pury in this documentary. He's running the auction in London of one of the works from this project and gives a little bit of interview time.


I happened to catch this gem of a documentary on PBS's Independent Lens series.

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