Waste Land was in my ‘to watch’ list along with a number of titles that I have now decided to dig in before the list gets too long. Now from my ‘to watch’ list, it has shifted to my ‘favorite’ list.
The film is based on the journey of the renowned Brazilian artist Vik Muniz back to his home land Brazil & Jardim Gramacho, world’s largest garbage dump. Muniz’s initial idea was to paint the garbage pictures but after interacting with them, he came up with something better. He involved the pickers in his project by making them work on their own pictures with recyclable garbage. To quote Vik ‘..so that they can say we did it, not that Vik did it.’ Taking their pictures in natural & semi-natural environments, he then guided them to recreating them with the material that they collected from the dump. In the end those pictures get a top ranking exhibition & the funds help transform the life of some of the pickers.
It is the human factor that touches you the most, or at least that is what impacted me the most. The horror of the mountains of the garbage was taken over by the stories of the people involved & their struggle & aspirations.
Generally, we make assumptions about people based on our perceptions about them as per their outlook. Nobody bothers to look deeper than the outlook, where the true story lies. As the saying goes ‘appearances are deceptive’. These people who are disregarded as lesser beings have ideas & philosophy of life that can put the socially accepted intellectuals to shame. Some examples from the film include; Valter who argued with people that 99 is not 100. Tiao Santos, who worked for organizing the community of the pickers, to ensure that they can put their demands in front of the authorities & how he kept going when even people who he wanted to help, did not believe in him. Then there was another individual, who would pick books while looking for recyclable stuff & bring it to the community’s centre & intended to build a community library. He would be shocked to see that people throw away books in their garbage. The women in the group were proud of the fact that they were earning their living through hard work & not begging or prostitution. These are just few of the examples.
This is one side of the human aspect that touches you; the other is the one that is reflected by Vik Muniz. People, who when they get their goals give back to their community & not be ashamed of their roots are not in the majority around us. To realize that it was a combination of their work & luck that got them where they are. Like Vik states that a lot of these pickers are from lower middle class families & they ended up there because drastic circumstances evolved around them & they had to be there for their survival. Had something similar happened to him, he could have ended up there as well. Near the end of the film Vik says that when you don’t have anything, you desire material things & when you have everything you don’t desire any material gains. For himself he admitted that ‘I had to buy a lot of crap before I could get over my complex’. This view is not shared by a lot of people. A lot of people cannot get over their complex & in some cases it gets destructive, both for themselves & others around them. In my opinion, those who will watch this documentary, (& I highly recommend that everyone does) he will be a source of inspiration.
There is a part where Vik & other collaborators of the project are discussing the long term effects on the pickers at the close of their project, as a lot of them said that they didn’t want to go back. The option of flying them to London was under discussing. One opinion came that people are fragile & once they get to see the other side, reconciling with their original status would have devastating effect on them. The counter argument was that if they don’t get to see the other side, how will they work towards getting out of their present situation. I personally agree to this view point. While this is a reality of life that not everyone will get the same status or rewards for their input, this is no reason for not giving everyone a chance to try. Hampering this chance for others should not be allowed. Everyone is entitled to the basics & then let the nature course take its route. This is a kind of mind set that we have towards education in our own country which has led to an education crisis.
If nothing else, the viewers will take home the idea of giving back to your community & the realization that in search of doing something big, we lose out on the opportunities to make a significant difference in a few peoples’ lives, which can trigger the much needed trickledown effect.