Environmentalists, artists–and documentary lovers, too — will appreciate “Waste Land”, the new film about the “world’s largest landfill”, the Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Brazilian artist Vik Muniz spent two years photographing the men and women who work there, folks like the pretty young woman who toils at the dump while her mother takes care of the kids; the young man who is the never-say-die leader of the garbage-pickers’ “union”; the old woman who has set up a huge
steel pot which she uses to prepare the occasional soup or stew, consisting of whatever ingredients happen to be at hand; and the weathered old man who has been working at the site for so many years that it’s practically the only life he has ever known.
There’s no plot; Muniz (a celebrity in his own right, with an international reputation) finds his subjects, photographs them, and — in the process — encourages them to tell their stories. After a while, the only question remaining is which of them will be invited along to the museums and galleries at which their likenesses will be displayed, and which of them Muniz will (reluctantly) leave behind. (One of them — I won’t say which — travels with him, briefly enjoys her newfound fame, and then returns to Gramacho as soon as she can because, as she puts it, she misses her friends.).
“Waste Land” may be the quintessential “talking heads” movie, but by the end of it — and we’ve seen one picker after another share, with surprising eloquence, his or her tale — we have learned something about these people that we won’t soon forget..
Is it rough going at times? Certainly — but no rougher than the utterly debasing job these people do, with diligence and dignity and nary a complaint, every day.
See it, and you’ll never look at garbage the same way again.