That’s one BIG woman.

Theatrical Release Date: 11/26/2010
Director: Lucy Walker
Rated: Not Rated by the MPAA
Runtime: 1 hour, 39 minutes

Golden Mug2010 Golden Mug

Best Documentary


Documentaries continue to produce some of the best cinematic offerings of 2010. Their subject matter has been diverse and the idea that only one can be chosen as the best of the year is proving to be quite difficult.

The first to grab my attention was “Exit Through the Gift Shop“, which burst onto the scene not only as an example of the beauty of street art/graffiti but also the perception of meaning and significance within art. Then “The Tillman Story” put a personal face to the cost of the wars America has started in Iraq and Afghanistan; keying in on the shameful use of propaganda to maintain public support.

Catfish” examined social networking and reminded us that a series of online communications doesn’t give us the reality of who anyone really is. “Last Train Home” showcased an amazingly intimate portrait of a Chinese family of migrant workers, just trying to give their children a better life.

And shifting from the personal to economics and politics, “Inside Job” presented director Charles Ferguson’s study of what led to the 2008 global collapse and framed it in an understandable manner, so the audience didn’t need a Master’s from Harvard to understand it.

The latest in this series of strikingly powerful films is director Lucy Walker’s “Waste Land”. With the help of co-directors Karen Harley and João Jardim, Walker follows Brazilian born artist Vic Muniz over the course of three years, from 2007-2009.

Muniz often incorporates different materials, like dirt, sugar or garbage into his photographic work. This led to the idea of using Rio de Janeiro’s Jardim Gramacho – which is regarded as one of the world’s largest landfills. Muniz and his assistants planned to take photographs of the workers (known as catadores) and their conditions, use the garbage as elements in the finished pieces, and then sell the works in order to give back to their community.

Working with the ACAMJG (Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho), what began as simple effort to create art and make a contribution turned into a very personal connection with people often forgotten by society at large. Walker captures these interactions, and fills us in on the catadores’ back stories.

We learn about workers whose families have been there at the landfill for generations or people choosing to sort through the garbage rather than turning to prostitution or drugs. Some are divorced, some are raising children, all present incredibly moving portraits – both as art and as people.

Muniz asked the catadores involved to also help in creating the art, hoping to give them a greater connection to the project which was going to hopefully create money for their benefit. This small break in their routine creates moving drama and only further deepens the connection between the film and those watching it (to no surprise, this won multiple audience awards at festivals worldwide).

Thankfully, all of this was laid out perfectly by Walker. The pacing is some of the best I’ve seen in a documentary all year. She was even able to enlist Moby to compose or contribute the music for the film (She met him while moonlighting as a DJ during a graduate film program at NYU.)

The bottom line is that “Waste Land” may well be the best documentary of 2010, which is saying something considering how strong the field is, and gets a 5 out of 5. It combines wonderfully moving stories with impressive art and should appeal to almost any demographic.

5 out of 5