“One single can is of great importance…” says Valter, one of the many beautifully raw characters in Lucy Walker’s documentary Waste Land, “Because 99 is not 100 and that single one will make a difference.” The film follows Vik Muniz, a famous modern artist, trying to “give back” by creating artwork with and for the garbage pickers of Jardim Gramacho, the largest landfill in the world. Against a backdrop of extreme poverty and literal, stinking garbage in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Vik befriends those who make their living by retrieving recyclable materials from the dump. He goes on to create stunning photographic portraits of these “pickers” composed entirely of discarded recylables. By involving them in an artistic project Vik enables his subjects to see themselves and their job with elevated insight.
Above all, the film is about reslilience. Its beauty is in its characters, who take pride in their occupation, their community, and themselves, despite the hard lot they’ve been dealt in life. Walker also teaches a complicated lesson on the power of art–what it can be, mean, and accomplish. Waste Land has a multi-faceted appeal, functioning as a kind of collision between Exit Through the Gift Shop and Invisible Children. It is the most elegant and heartfelt documentary I’ve seen in a long time, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to cry some happy tears while reaffirming their belief in human kindness.