Waste Land (2010, Brazil): A Review

Posted by Abdel Kadz on Friday, September 02, 2011 with 2 comments

This morning, I heard the faint voice of a kid. He was shouting basura, basura (garbage, garbage), cue that it was time to throw a couple of days' thrash. It is like this in our neighborhood. Since our house is situated walking distance from the road, we need to bring our refuse outside for the dump truck to pick up. In the process, we learned to segregate our waste: the recyclables from the biodegradable. This part, recycling, is the very heart of Waste Land, a documentary from director Lucy Walker. It is about US-based Brazilian modern artist, Vik Muniz, who stages a grand project to benefit the garbage pickers or, as Tiao, who is one of the lead characters, would put it, recyclables pickers of Jardim Gramacho in Brazil. 

The film became a portrait of the pickers of Jardim Gramacho, what used to be the largest landfill in the world, turning recyclable material as the medium to turn the very portraits of these resilient individuals into works of art. The film is not just about picking out what you can make use of from the trucks of garbage that frequent Jardim Gramacho, it is about people whose message is for us to segregate, reuse, or recycle. Almost always these things are not taken back by Mother Earth and, more often than not, is returned to us. They end up clogging our sewers, polluting our seawater, posing a health risk not only to those who at some point became irresponsible but even those who took the time to segregate their waste. 

This film fuses thrash and art, literally speaking, and you end up bespectacled with the molding of the former into the latter, which makes the best parts of the film, and the pickers became not only models but co-artists under the supervision of Vik Muniz. More than the amount of money that Tiao and his ACAMJG, the association of recyclables pickers of Jardim Gramacho, got from the auction of their portraits, a new lease on life was in the offing. It was made possible not by the mountains of garbage that surround them but by their drive to make a change for their family, the community, and themselves. 

I waited for the dump truck to make its way around the corner. On my hands were two plastic bags full of a couple of days' thrash. Our neighborhood neither has a recycling facility nor an area to segregate wastes so what is no longer needed in the house were in the bags. Handing them out, I was reminded of the men of Jardim Gramacho, of Payatas in Quezon City, and even the casualties and victims of the recent landslide of trash in Irisan, Baguio. The amount of waste could have been less if we had the opportunity, the capability, the responsibility, and the means to recycle. I handed my bags to the collector and went back home knowing that my garbage is another one's treasure or a work of art, albeit how many centavos or pesos it may amount to. 

Highly recommended. 5/5.