Waste Land (2010) Salt Spring Island Documentary Film Festival 2011
Even though my research agenda began with wastewater, I’ve always been involved in solid waste and hazardous waste management for a long time, particularly when it comes to voluntary instruments for pollution control and minimization of polluting emissions. So it only made sense for me to catch Waste Land (2010), a Brazilian documentary that follows Vik Muniz as he documents (by photograph, video and creating art with recyclable materials) the lives of what in Mexico are called “pepenadores” and in Canada are “binners”. The summary from the Film Festival website:
Filmed over nearly three years, Waste Land follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world’s largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of “catadores”—self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives.
While I have studied the politics and public policy implications of garbage governance, I am most fascinated by the anthropological and sociological studies of binners. Waste Land is (inadvertently, in my view) an in-depth examination of Following the lives of the “catadores” over the course of 3 years, Muniz begins to understand fully what their lives mean to themselves and to him.
I was profoundly touched by the film, mostly because I have studied how solid waste management is carried out in Mexico, I have carried out fieldwork in Mexican landfills, and Waste Land does provide an interesting cross-cultural examination of how pickers of recyclable materials dignify their work, their self-worth and their relationship to garbage. For me, as someone who examines garbage governance concepts through geographical, anthropological, political and sociological lenses, it was beautiful to see the lives of these pickers transform as they participated in Muniz’s project.
It was inspiring to see how refusing to be categorized as “binners” and gaining self-respect by looking at themselves and their work through the lenses of Muniz’s documentary film-making and photography, and modern art (he created a number of portraits of the catadores, pictures that I found had a similar theme with Klimt’s The Kiss but using recyclable materials). Muniz had no idea he would influence these people so much and is equally touched by the outcome of the whole process.
Overall, I strongly recommend my readers to check out Waste Land. It’s inspiring, it’s beautiful and it’s a fantastic anthropological and sociological study of garbage and recycling management. Whatever your beat is, you should really watch this film. It’s totally worth it.
Disclosure: I’m in Salt Spring Island to experience the 12th Annual Salt Spring Island Documentary Film Festival March 4th through 6th. My stay at Hastings House and my flight on Salt Spring Air have both been complimentary. Entry to the film festival is by donation and I’ve happily paid for that out of my own pocket. It’s a fantastic film festival and you should experience it next year.
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