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Waste Land – An Award-Winning Documentary About Recycling Trash into Art

If you enjoy watching documentaries that change the way you think and feel about art then you should watch “Waste Land.” This 2010 documentary filmed over the course of 3 years shares the touching story of Vik Muniz, a critically acclaimed New York artist, and his work with a handful of garbage pickers from Rio de Janeiro.

Muniz is well-known for using interesting material like sugar, dirt and chocolate syrup in his artwork. In “Waste Land” he decides to travel to his native homeland of Brazil for his most interesting material yet: garbage. His search leads him to Jardim Gramacho, one of the world’s largest landfills, which is also home to a variety of “catadores” – people who pick through recyclable material. For many of these catadores, picking through the trash is there main source of income, as there are few other job opportunities available.

Muniz in the Jardim Gramacho landfill

What Muniz does for these catadores is presents them with an opportunity to not only help with his artwork, but to also become his artwork. He first takes pictures of the catadores surrounded by the everyday elements they encounter at the landfill.

Catadore Tiao being photographed in a tub

He then magnifies these portraits onto the ground and has the catadores outline them with material like plastic cups, glass bottles, rubber tires and other recyclables.

Tiao's portrait outlined with recyclables

A woman carrying a basket on her head

From photograph to larger-than-life portrait

Once the portraits are complete he takes a picture of it and frames it. The end result is a beautiful, eco-friendly piece of art.

The end result

Muniz would later sell this artwork at international auctions and give the catadores the proceeds from the sales.

As you watch “Waste Land” you will see Vik Muniz grow increasingly attached to these catadores. The catadores themselves are transformed by the power of their art, and many of them are inspired to live a better life beyond the landfill. It is a truly powerful documentary, well-worthy of its 2010 Sundance Film Festival Award.

Watch the official film trailer below:

About Trish Broome

Trish is a half Korean hip hop head who writes satire music articles on The Rap Insider and muses over culture and diversity on Mixed Nation. In her spare time you can find her eating kimchi or tweeting at @TheGreenGroove.


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