“I’d rather want everything and have nothing, than have everything and want nothing.”
Where does all of our garbage go? What happens to all of that waste that we so carelessly dispose of? Never before would I have asked myself these questions or even remotely considered the answer. However, for Rio de Janeiro the answer is obvious…Jardim Gramacho. In Vik Muniz’s documentary Waste Land he mentions that with his art he wants to, “change the lives of a group of people with the same material that they deal with everyday.” With the help of Fabio, the director of Vik’s studio in Rio, the two set off to Jardim Gramacho where they meet a handful of people working the landfill who truly bring the project to life.
Within this documentary we meet Tiao, the president of the Association of Pickers of Jardim Gramacho (ACAMJG), Zumbi, Isis, Valter, Magna, Irma, and Suelem. Throughout the film it is easy to become emotionally invested in each of their lives and the stories that they share with us. At one point of the film I even felt myself tearing up when Isis was recalling the story of her three-year-old son that she had lost to acute pneumonia. The way Vik framed each of the pickers’ portraits magnificently showcases the spirit of those featured as well as the strength that each of them possess.
Before this film I never knew that such a place existed let alone the masses of people that sustain a livelihood from it. Waste Land has opened my eyes to a whole new world of labor that I couldn’t even begin to imagine having to endure. Yet, the amazing thing is that some of the people working at the landfill don’t consider it as something they have to endure but rather something to take great pride in. Take Valter for example. He is the vice president of ACAMJG and considers his job as one that helps prevent pollution from destroying the environment. He is proud of what he does and it’s impossible to miss the way his eyes sparkle just from talking about it. Despite the landfill being closed in 2012, there is no doubt in my mind that with this documentary Vik Muniz has managed to both bring an awareness to an environment that we otherwise may have never heard of and shine a light on a few of the admirable pickers who worked there.