Waste Land – Review

Having already picked up a whole host of awards at previous film festivals before coming to London, including the Audience Awards at Sundance and Berlin, we’re only going to add one more thumbs up to Waste Land‘s accolades.

The documentary follows artist, Vik Muniz, who, having made his name globally from his adopted home in New York, returned to his native Brazil for a new project. His aim was to work with the catadores (or ‘pickers’) of Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho – the world’s biggest rubbish dump. The self-appointed catadores sort through the rubbish for recyclables to sell and Muniz worked with seven of them to first collect the materials they needed, then to create giant portraits of each person from the rubbish assembled.

Each of the catadores featured stands apart from the others, with compelling stories and fascinating characters – from the president of the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho, Tiaõ, who claims to identify with Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, to 18-year-old and mother of two, Suelem, who looks a lot like a Brazilian version of Mild Concern favourite, Felicity Jones.

Despite being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Brazil’s social problems are incredibly depressing and many similar documentaries leave its well-off, western audiences squirming in their cinema seats with middle-class guilt and provoke never carried-out resolutions to do “something good”. However, Waste Land carries both problem and solution in one film, is never patronising nor manipulative, and is sensitive in showing the catadores‘ conflicting emotions over their work. Tiaõ is justly proud of their environmental contribution, while another picker, Magna, explains that while they may come away smelling of the dump, it’s more honest than turning tricks on Copacabana. All of this plus a soundtrack scored by Moby.

Despite being a Brazil-UK collaboration, Waste Land is currently without a UK general release. Hopefully this will change as it’s a good antidote against the gloomy British weather.