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4.7 out of 5 stars27
4.7 out of 5 stars
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This very fine documentary feature was the first to win audience awards at both the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. It was also nominated for best documentary at the 2011 Academy awards. I have a feeling that if it was down to an audience vote it would have won! It has also won a number of awards at other international film festivals. "Wasteland" has been marketed as a film which shows how lives are transformed through the power of art, and for once the advertising is not exaggerating. The film follows a project by the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz, as he uses recyclable materials from the massive landfill site of Jardim Gramacho, Rio De Janeiro, to use in his work. In terms of sheer volume of trash received in a day it is the worlds busiest landfill, and working on it day and night like a swarm of locusts are the contadores, the pickers who grab any recyclable materials to make a living. Amongst the scavenging birds, the rats, the flies and the stink which seems almost tangible to the watcher, these people go about their work with unexpected dignity.

The human race is by some distance the messiest life form on this planet. This generation particularly so, and I have a feeling history will judge us as such. Just how messy you will see from this film. Do we really need all this stuff? Lives are laid bare amongst the garbage which tells a tale. Muniz himself says that after escaping poverty he brought a lot of possessions to satiate his desire for material things, and adds that this desire was extinguished. Cut to Muniz's plush apartment full of nice objects. Therein lies the contradiction that is at the heart of our wasteful, consumer led society. We fill our homes full of stuff from China and it ends up in landfill. In the film Muniz picks out characters working on the site. One young woman called Isis has been working there since she was seven. Another is a leading light in the pickers association. One young man relates how he recovered a copy of Machiavelli's "The Prince" from the rubbish, and compares the Florence of that period with its petty fiefdoms to the drug controlled flavela areas of Rio. These people are photographed by Muniz and then work on his art project, which has a huge transforming effect on them. One even travels to an art exhibition in London. I was reminded of Pocahontas being transported to Elizabethan England. Perhaps most telling is that only one of them, who is to old too change her ways, decides to go back to Gramacho after the project has ended.

There is much to admire in the dignity of these people in a harsh environment. They support one another and show more tolerance than the people at a local car boot sale do. These people are also doing a durned fine job in recycling vast amounts of material each day. The tears that you see on screen are clearly genuine, which is very moving. The art that Muniz turns out is actually very good. His type of art I can relate to, which is more than I can say for Damien Hirst. The director Lucy Walker together with co-directors Joao Jardim and Karen Harley have made a genuinely uplifting film out of unpromising material, echoing Muniz's work. Most importantly the 250,000 dollars raised from the sale of pictures at auction was given to the pickers association, thus helping to improve the working conditions of these remarkable people. An added bonus for me was the fine accompanying music by Moby a group I admire. This is a heartwarming documentary that celebrates the human spirit and deserves all the plaudits it got.
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on 21 October 2011
Wasteland is a documentary about a Brazilian artist living in the USA who goes back to Brazil to work with the people and the rubbish of Rio de Janeiro's city dump. He includes the people he meets working at the dump as both subjects and fellow artists, and donates the money raised from sales to the people who work in the dump. The film shows the vitality of the human spirit, hopefulness in the face of adversity and the transformative power of art. It also shows what an impact commitment, dedication and perseverance coupled with relatively small (at least from a developed world perspective) amount of money can have on the lives of people in the developing world. A really enjoyable film.
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on 13 April 2011
This is a well conceived, well filmed and directed documentary, showing the dignity and fortitude of people cast at the nether end of the social and economic order. A detailed account of their daily attempt to rise above their situation and how a photographer on a mission helped them feel good about themselves and what they do ... and possibly get life changing benefits from the enterprise. Very moving if tinged with a little sadness at the conclusion.
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on 28 August 2011
This is a film that supports what all the self-development gurus write about. Most notably Wayne Dyer, who says that when you really want to succeed in life, you should ask "how may I serve?" What can I do to make other people's lives better? And in doing so you can make your own life better. That somehow everything that you need will appear when you need it and so will the people who can help you make it happen. That for me is what I got from this film. The human spirit in it's grandest form can make truth and beauty shine out of even the most dire places and situations anyone could possibly find themselves in! I will buy a copy of this film each time I need to give someone a gift. It is truly heart-warming and thought-provoking. Loved every second of it.
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on 8 February 2013
I did like this documentary type film as it follows the lives of people who literaly live off rubbish,. There are several instances where I had to cringe when I saw the lifestyle and workstyle of some of the people in the film. I am glad to say that there is a happy ending to what seems to be a lot of people being exploited. I did have a little chuckle when I saw that one of the girls in the film had not bought shampoo for years, she just used the unfinished ones that she found on the rubbish dump !!
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on 12 May 2011
Touching, enlightening and powerful: essentially this is story about the human spirit where hope and transformation can be found in the bleakest of places.
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on 12 October 2014
I have a new hero: Vik Muniz. What a great man he is -- alongside all those good Brazilian folk who participated in this life-changing, perspective-altering experience. And the whole thing is so thought-provoking. I recommend it to everyone I know.
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on 9 May 2013
One of those documentaries that was not the easiest or most interesting to watch but was worth the effort. The art was just amazing and the impact the artist had on the lives of the rubbish pickers remarkable.
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on 1 April 2014
Incredible, gives a real insight into the lives of the pickers and the enormous scale of waste in just one part of a country, let alone on our planet. The DVD came very quickly and was in excellent condition.
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on 21 February 2014
A not hugely well-filmed record of an amazing life-changing art project by a successful artist working with the workers from a huge Brazilian recycling and landfill dump. This version has about 5% English soundtrack, the rest being in Portuguese. Dutch subtitles are the only ones available. More informative captioning, plus a voice-over narration would also have been useful, and some more background as to the nature of Favela life. Long interviews with people being deeply moved are difficult without either language!
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