Nominated for Best Documentary at this years Academy Awards, Waste Land sounded like an interesting film. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, after achieving success in the United States and Europe, devised a project that would contribute back to the poor of his home country, a world in which he himself had grown up. He goes to Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro, the world’s largest garbage dump and seeks to create portraits of the garbage pickers out of the recyclable materials that they pick from the trash, employing them in the process.
He then photographs these huge constructed images and turns out huge prints that tour at major art museums and are sold at auction, passing the money (or some portion of it) back to the garbage pickers and their union, giving them funding but also exposure, drawing attention to their lives.
It’s interesting, and certainly some of the garbage pickers are charming, inspiring characters. What Muniz did was generous and meaningful, helping people as he has. Director Lucy Walker follows him through the creation of the project, down into the massive, overwhelming dump, through the art project and the exhibitions. And the film has moments of hope and joy.
But it’s not the best documentary in the world. Not even the best one that had been up for Best Documentary. But it’s vantage on the marginalized poor, especially with its altruistic, artistic aspect and glimmering “feel good” qualities, it’s easy to see how it might connect with people. But it’s not “great”, though it’s interesting. I’m also not so sure about the art that Muniz creates. It’s a nice project but I would say it’s not great art. Maybe that’s the same with the film.