Movie Review

Marin Squire at the Movies

Waste Land

By Erik Squire
Hello my fellow SMCWaste-Land-FeaturedCites. This week I have commandeered our movie review section regular from fellow section editor Rebekah Marin. After watching a remarkable documentary in my Intro to Visual Art course, I simply had to write a column about it. The documentary that captured my interest, entitled Waste Land, depicts one artist’s epic as he turns trash into treasure, quite literally.
Waste Land journals world-renowned artist Vik Muniz and his ambition to help a poverty-stricken community whose members spend their days working in the world’s largest landfill. Muniz sought to accomplish this goal by making art, and what was the medium for this art? Why, it was garbage.
The film begins with Muniz’s personal story and how he achieved his success. Originally from Brazil himself, Muniz made his way to New York with the money that was his compensation for being shot in the leg. Muniz took to photography and made a name for himself; as a short biography states: “Often working in series, Vik has used dirt, diamonds, sugar, string, chocolate syrup and garbage to create bold, witty and often deceiving images drawn from the pages of photojournalism and art history. His work has been met with both commercial success and critical acclaim, and has been exhibited worldwide.”
The documentary then shows Muniz as he considers an altruistic endeavor to benefit those in need, with the help of his art. Muniz finds his perfect inspiration in Jardim Gramacho in Brazil, the largest dump on Earth. Muniz finds that he is taken by the “Catadores” (a group of people working in the landfill, picking and sorting through the recyclables). After spending time with the Catadores and viewing firsthand their day to day lives, Muniz becomes enthralled with helping them improve their lot in life.
The filming process took over three years to complete, all the while Muniz integrated himself into the community. The first step was to find models and laborers for the project. The workers then had to sort through the landfill and find pieces of trash that could be used to create the portraits; they were of course paid for their efforts. The next step was setting the scene. One of the artistic scenes recreated was that of [i]The Death of Marat[i], a painting of French Revolutionist Jean-Paul Marat, by Jacques-Louis David. Muniz would then capture the moment with a picture. It was masterfully and beautifully done. Finally, Muniz instructed the models to recreate his photography large scale, almost entirely out of garbage. The end products were self-portraits that (in my opinion) rivaled Frida Kahlo’s work.
Throughout the film, I was deeply disturbed by the working conditions for the Catadores. However, I was also touched by the camaraderie that they shared and the happiness that seemed to prevail despite their circumstances. It was saddening yet not despairing; there was still beauty and hope.
The documentary finishes with Muniz’s work being sold at an auction house in England. Each piece of his work was sold in the tens of thousands of dollars; every cent was then given to the Catadores who helped create the art pieces.
As for Muniz, his altruistic aspiration only helped increase his prominence. “His solo show at MAM in Rio de Janeiro was second only to Picasso in attendance records,” states the same biography. “It was here that Vik first exhibited his ‘Pictures of Garbage Series’ in Brazil.”
For information on how to get involved with helping the Catadores, please visit:
Information gathered regarding Muniz was collected from the Waste Land movie’s website.


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