Skip to content

DVD Review: Waste Land

March 29, 2011

Waste Land – An eOne Films’ Release


DVD Release Date: March 29th, 2010

Rated PG for mature themes

Running time: 99 minutes


Lucy Walker (dir.)

Karen Harley (co-dir.)

João Jardim (co-dir.)


Moby (music)



Vik Muniz as Himself


Our reviews below:


Waste Land DVD Review By John C.

**** (out of 4)

In the heart of Rio de Janiro, at the Jardim Gramacho garbage dump, a small community of locals spend their days amongst the trash, salvaging recyclable materials and selling them back for profit.  World renowned modern artist and proud native of Brazil, Vik Muniz travelled to the dump so that he could produce portraits of the ‘pickers’ created entirely out of trash.  The results of his project are beautifully realistic works of art, and director Lucy Walker’s documentary, Waste Land, shows us the touching journeys taken by the subjects.


Waste Land fascinates, surprises and moves us in equal measure.  Playing with a solid narrative from start to finish, the sheer amount of garbage that we see offers a more powerful message about the importance of recycling than most environmentally-themed documentaries.  The film’s unique subjects offer an inspirational and unique outlook on life, despite having been pushed to the edges of their own society.  This is a film as much about the importance of art as it is about the triumph of the human spirit, and all around it comes highly recommended.


The DVD about 28-minutes of bonus features, including a ‘behind the scenes’ featurette and extended footage.


Waste Land DVD Review by Erin V.

**** (out of 4)

In Rio de Janiero, at the biggest dump in the world, everything is tossed away together – true garbage, as well as recyclables.  There at the dump are a group of people who work as ‘pickers.’  They sort out the recyclable items by hand and sell the materials at the end of the day.  It is a hard job in the hot sun, but for many the only way to keep a roof over their head and food on the table.  An artist who uses found objects (among other things) to create large-scale portraits to be photographed, wants to go to the dump, meet the people there, and do portraits of them.  The artist who makes these images, is Vik Muniz – a man who grew up in a lower-middle class area of Brazil, and only attributes a twist of fate to him not possibly becoming a picker himself.


And maybe it is because of this inside perspective as a starting point, but Waste Land never feels exploitative or cloying.  Completely deserving of its Oscar nomination, this is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen.  The winner, Inside Job, was interesting and timely, but what it lacked is the universal human element that Waste Land possesses.  This is a film about art, a film about regular people who happen to work at a Rio dump, and ultimately, a film about life.  This is worth being viewed by many, now that it has reached DVD.


Waste Land DVD Review By Nicole

**** (out of 4)

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.  This is the premise of Waste Land, a fascinating documentary about society, recycling, and human relationships.  When Brazillian born artist Vik Muniz wanted to do something unique, he decided to share something with impoverished people in his home town of Rio de Janiero.


The city of Rio does not separate its recyclables from trash.  That is the job of the catadores, a ragtag organization of garbage pickers who voluntarily sort out recyclables and sell them to private recycling plants.  Despite the obvious health risks of their job, the catadores have various opinions about their work.  While some want to get safer careers, others are happy with what they do.  The catadores are like a family, caring for one another in a tight community.


Impressed by the tenacity of the catadores, Vik Muniz proposes something that will bring money into the community.  He will photograph each catadore in a pose of his or her choosing.  Then, the photos will be projected onto a studio floor, so the catadores can trace the picture using recyclable materials.  The recycled artwork gets photographed and professionally printed for auction.  The raw materials are then recycled into the next piece.  This art project turned out to be a success with both local and international art collectors.


I really enjoyed Waste Land for a number of reasons.  As a visual artist myself, I was interested in the artistic process involved in the project.  But what I also really liked is the attitude of the catadores.  Sure, their life is hard.  They live in third world conditions, in an area plagued by crime.  Many have seen tragic or disturbing things happen.  But the catadores have a positive outlook on life.  Waste Land follows each of these individuals’ lives, without being exploitative or judgemental.  This isn’t just another infomercial about “helping the poor.”  Instead, Waste Land is a film about a community of artists who find ways to support themselves.


Waste Land is a must see for anyone interested in sociology, visual arts, human rights, and environmental issues.  Perfect for Earth Day, I would highly recommend this film to high schools and universities, or fans of documentary films.


Waste Land DVD Review By Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

It takes an artist to bring to life the beauty in an otherwise ugly place.  Brazilian-born Vik Muniz and filmmaker Lucy Walker spent three years with the catadores (garbage pickers) of Rio de Janero’s garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho.  Muniz’ original plan was to photograph various catadores and then create his famous ‘made out of garbage’ paintings that exhibit in art galleries around the world.  As the project unfolded it became obvious that the several catadores chosen needed to take part in telling their own story and create the art pieces themselves using garbage they handpicked to cover Muniz’ striking photographs.


Waste Land is an inspiring and beautiful documentary about the dignity and spirit human beings can have even in less than ideal circumstances.  The sheer volume of garbage at Jardim Gramacho is mind-boggling.  The fact that catadores, real people, earn their meagre livings picking through other people’s garbage to sort out profitable recycling materials is an eye-opener.  The message about materialistic excess and the vast division between rich and poor is an obvious one.


What makes Waste Land so watchable are the subjects themselves.  The catadores photographed are so open and giving in sharing their stories.  The transformation we see in them as they  participate in creating their art pieces is touching and inspiring.  Seeing them view their pictures in an art gallery was wonderful.


Given the subject matter this would be a good film to watch in honour of Earth Day.  It would also be a must-see for those who recognize the potential of art to change lives.  Waste Land absolutely deserved its Oscar nomination.


Waste Land DVD Review By Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Waste Land follows the successful New York based artist Vik Muniz back to his native Brazil to produce unique portraits of catadores (pickers) in Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill site on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. In terms of sanitation, Brazil lies between the India described by Danny Boyle, where people can drop litter anywhere knowing it will be picked up by untouchables and reused, recycled or disposed of appropriately; and more developed countries where people separate their own waste and recyclables, all handled by machines. Loads tipped from Rio’s garbage trucks are met by the catadores, each specializing in the type of material they gather and sell to waiting buyers. Vik got to know some of the more interesting characters in this group, including  visionary leaders who have formed a union and save usable books for their own library, women proud to be doing honest work instead of turning tricks, and the gifted cook, a trained chef turning discarded but still good food into nourishing meals for everyone.


Muniz takes some beautiful portraits and collects a variety of interesting junk, particularly among the remains of Carnaval celebrations. He then invites the subjects to his studio where under his direction they decorate the portraits projected on the floor with bits of this material, to be photographed by a large format camera. The proceeds of large prints sold at auction go back to the catadores, as well as copies for themselves, giving them a new sense of pride and optimism. Waste Land is an inspiring tribute to the triumph of human spirit over the unpleasant and apparently degrading circumstances in which the catadores make a living.


Consensus: With fascinating themes both environmental and sociological, Waste Land is an endlessly moving documentary that plays as both a testimony to the power of art and the triumph of the human spirit. ***3/4 (Out of 4)

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: