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July 12, 2010 | by  | in Film |
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Waste Land


Waste Land is a documentary study of ‘pickers’, people who live off the waste of others by sifting through landfills seeking recyclable materials to sell. Jardim Gramacho is Rio de Janeiro’s biggest landfill. Much of the surrounding area is plagued by the drug trade, and it is no coincidence that many pickers are the victims of addiction. 50% of what goes into the landfill can be recycled, and demand for materials is dictated by recycling wholesalers. Each day, pickers take out 200 tons of recyclable materials from the landfill, and can make around US$20-25. This is equivalent to the rubbish produced by a city of 400,000 people. Hence, the pickers are crucial to the landfill’s capacity.

There is a strong sense of community existing within the pickers, and an association called ACAMJG has been established to promote their rights. Since its conception, it has successfully campaigned to have a sewage system set up for the pickers’ shantytown residence. The people work together, exemplified by Irma, who recovers unspoilt food from the waste and cooks it to feed fellow workers, while Zumbi unearths books to set up a local community library.

The film centers on Vik Muniz, who left an impoverished life in Brazil to seek opportunity in New York in 1983, where he eventually became an established artist. Muniz’s artwork involved photographing the pickers, making a collage of their portrait using items collected from the landfill, and shooting the resulting image to make an enlarged print. He then exhibited the images in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, with some reaching US$50,000. In a life-changing act, the proceeds are then given back to the pickers.

In the course of the documentary Walker goes back to Rio to take a closer look at the subject’s personal lives. The optimism and pride that these people hold on to, despite their scorned-upon status, is remarkable. The reality of their situation is exaggerated by the sheer magnitude of waste in the area they inhabit. A close up shot of rubbish zooms out to encompass hundreds of specks representing the people picking among the waste. Waste Land is a haunting reminder of the privileged people who carelessly consume and create waste, while the destitute are ultimately left to clean up the mess.

Screening as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival:

Saturday 17th July, 1.45pm—Paramount.
Wednesday 21th July, 6.15pm—Paramount.
Monday 26th July, 11:15pm—Paramount.

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