Waste Land

Portrait of Marat
Tiaõ (r) looks down at his portrait as Marat – executed in garbage from a Rio de Janeiro landfill

Filmed over nearly three years, Waste Land follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

There he photographs an eclectic band of "catadores" — self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz’s initial objective was to "paint" the catadores with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives.

Tiao as Marat
Vik Muniz photographs catadore Tiaõ as Marat

Director Lucy Walker (Devil's Playground, Blindsight and Countdown to Zero) and co-directors João Jardim and Karen Harley have great access to the entire process and, in the end, offer stirring evidence of the transformative power of art and the alchemy of the human spirit.

Established in 1970 as a sanitary waste facility, the landfill became home to an anarchic community of scavengers during the economic crises of the 70’s and 80’s. These catadores lived and worked in the garbage, collecting and selling scrap metal and recyclable materials. They established a squatter community (the favela of Jardim Gramacho) surrounding the landfill, which is now home to over 13,000 people who are entirely dependent on an economy that revolves around the trade of recyclable materials.

In 1995, Rio’s sanitation department began to rehabilitate the landfill and formalise the job of the catador, granting licenses to catadores as well as enforcing basic safety standards, like the banning of children from the landfill. They also began a pilot project to create a carbon negative power plant fuelled by urban solid waste.

On their side, the catadores formed ACAMJG, the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho, whose president, Tião Santos, is featured in Waste Land. ACAMJG lead the way in community development. Under Tião’s leadership, ACAMJG has created a decentralized system of recycling collection in neighboring municipalities; the creation of a recycling center, professional recognition of the catador, enabling catadores to be contracted for their services, the creation of a 24-hour medical clinic, and the construction of a daycare center and skills training center.

Lucy Walker, Director

Lucy Walker
Lucy Walker - Directory

Lucy Walker uses dramatic filmmaking techniques to make documentary films, following memorable characters on transformative journeys that grant unique access inside closed worlds.

In addition to Waste Land, Lucy Walker directed Countdown to Zero, a feature documentary that premiered at Sundance 2010 and was recently released in theaters. Countdown to Zero is a terrifying exposé of the current threat of nuclear terrorism and proliferation.

Lucy’s previous film Blindsight premiered at Toronto and received audience awards at the Berlinale (Panorama), Ghent, AFI and Palm Springs film festivals, as well as nominations for Best Documentary at the 2007 Grierson Awards and British Independent Film Awards. Blindsight follows the emotional journey of six blind Tibetan teenagers who climb up the north side of Mt. Everest with their hero, blind American mountaineer Erik Weihenmeyer, and their teacher, Sabriye Tenberken, who founded Braille Without Borders, the only school for the blind in Tibet.

Lucy’s first feature documentary, Devil's Playground, examined the struggles of Amish teenagers during their period of experimentation (rumspringa). It premiered at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win awards at the Karlovy Vary and Sarasota film festivals, three Emmy Award nominations for Best Documentary, Best Directing and Best Editing and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Documentary.

Lucy’s credits also include Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues, for which she was twice nominated for Emmy Awards for Outstanding Direction in a Children’s Series, and several award-winning narrative short films.

Lucy grew up in London, England, started directing theater in high school and continued as an undergraduate at Oxford University, where her plays won prestigious Oxford University Dramatic Society awards. After graduating at the top of her class with a BA Hons and MA Oxon in Literature, she won a Fulbright Scholarship to attend New York University’s Graduate Film Program, where she earned her MFA.

While at NYU, she moonlighted as a musician and DJ, during which time she met Moby, who contributed the music for Waste Land.

About Vik Muniz

Vick Muniz
Vik Muniz in the Jardim Gramacho landfill

Vik Muniz was born into a working-class family in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1961. As a young man he was shot in the leg while trying to break up a fight. He received compensation for his injuries and used this money to fund a trip to New York City, where he has lived and worked since the late 1980s.

He began his career as a sculptor but gradually became more interested in photographic reproductions of his work, eventually turning his attention exclusively to photography. He incorporates a multiplicity of unlikely materials into this photographic process. Often working in series, Vik has used dirt, diamonds, sugar, string, chocolate syrup and garbage to create bold, witty and often deceiving images drawn from the pages of photojournalism and art history.

His work has been met with both commercial success and critical acclaim, and has been exhibited worldwide. His solo show at MAM in Rio de Janeiro was second only to Picasso in attendance records; it was here that Vik first exhibited his "Pictures of Garbage Series" in Brazil.