Waste Land | Chicago Reader

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98 minutes

New York artist Vik Muniz returned to his native Brazil to collaborate on a series of artworks with impoverished garbage pickers, or catadores, from the vast Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro; using all manner of refuse, Muniz created and then photographed giant landscape portraits of selected catadores, with all proceeds from sale of the framed prints going to the subjects. This 2009 documentary by Lucy Walker (Countdown to Zero) records the elaborate project, touching on the sad lives of the catadores and the larger issues of poverty and sustainable growth that inform the art. The movie might have amounted to no more than a sunny eco-parable, but it begins to bite harder when the catadores, captivated by their sudden importance, face the unhappy prospect of returning to their previous existence. The real question, it seems, is whether human beings can be repurposed as profitably as junk can. Joao Jardim and Karen Harley codirected. In English and subtitled Portuguese.

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