Lucy Walker’s exquisite, Oscar-nominated “Waste Land” (co-directed by João Jardim and Karen Harley) documents a remarkable conceptual art project by Vik Muniz, a Brooklyn resident but São Paulo-born. Traveling to Rio de Janeiro, Muniz hopes to enlist the pickers of recyclable materials, or “catadores,” of one of the world’s largest garbage dumps, the Jardim Gramacho, to recreate classical works of art. Things, as you might expect, and as a nonfiction filmmaker would hope, do not turn out to be so simple. Walker finds their hope, devotion and dignity to be of far greater interest than the making of Muniz’s tableaux. Their work is a necessary part of recovering usable materials: they’re environmentalists, using their hands, and their intelligence. Beneath it all, the ever-astonishing “Waste Land” is about worth: of what civilization discards, of the elevated proceeds of art and, mostly, of self-worth and its necessary realization. (The helicopter shots of the vast landscape of potential raw materials offer the same awe-inspiring scale as Edward Burtynsky’s serene photographs of industrial-scale environmental desecration.) The striking photography is by Dudu Miranda; the music is by Moby. 98m. As of press time, a U.S. Visa was denied for one of Muniz’s key subjects to attend the Academy Awards. “We are considering going with Tião,” Muniz told Reuters. “He is a person who is fundamental for the film, he really should be the one to receive the Oscar.” The trailer embedded below only gives a small taste of how beautiful “Waste Land” is and the unavoidable questions it prompts about art and commerce. 99m. (Ray Pride)
“Wasteland” opens Friday at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.