x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

ADFF documentary review: Waste Land

A sensitive portrait of a downtrodden people.

Waste Land 

Director: Lucy Walker

Remember the myth of Sisyphus - the story of a man who's condemned to push a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll down again? 

It's alive and well in Brazil, not too far from the beautiful bodies on Ipanema. In Lucy Walker's documentary, Waste Land, the garbage dumps of Rio de Janeiro that spill toward the ocean on the outskirts of the city are some of the largest in the world. They say the dumps are the only place where the poor meet the rich of Brazil - in their trash. 

Workers called pickers recycle 200 tons of reusable materials from these trash fields every day. These societal cast-offs live in shacks made from scavenged materials near the vast dump, which is euphemistically called Jardim Gramacho - Gramacho Garden. Vik Muniz, the Brazilian photographer, grew up poor, although not as poor as the pickers. 

Yet he knows that his family wasn't more than an accident away from ending up in a place like that. In Waste Land, we see Muniz giving something back. He listens to the pickers, who are often eloquent about their lives and about the environment, and he takes their pictures. The photographs end up in museums and auction houses. Muniz is a sensitive portraitist, but he's more than an aesthete. 

He finds dignity, and he draws it out from people who considered themselves invisible.