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Waste Land

WASTE LAND follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys to the world’s largest garbage dump in Brazil where he creates striking portraits of the garbage pickers, called catadores, and transforms their lives.

Director: Lucy Walker
Year: 2010
Time: 99 min

 Waste Land
(2010) on IMDb

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Ways to Influence

Share this film, so others can also learn about the transformative power of art.

Visit the official WASTE LAND website to learn more about the catadores and how you can support their transition into more qualified jobs within the new recycling plants. Donations go towards education.

Seek to reduce your garbage output. Consider what you can reuse or recycle. Try composting at home.

Visit an art museum and try looking at art the way Muniz describes: leaning forward to examine the materials used, then leaning back to take in the image as a whole. Share your experiences with others and discuss how perception can change depending on context and viewpoint.

Related Articles and Resources


“Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist known for using unconventional materials to create portraits of marginalized people, set out to “paint” the catadores with the garbage they spent their days sorting through.”

Visit PBS’ Independent Lens for clips from the film, an excerpt of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” a director’s statement from Lucy Walker, and a forum where you can share your own thoughts.

Oscars 2011 | Interview with WASTE LAND director, Lucy Walker

Lucy Walker dropped in New York to take part in a Q&A with moderator Morgan Spurlock following a special screening of the film. IndieWire has some snippets from the chat.

End Of An Era For Rio Garbage Pickers

“If you throw something out in Rio de Janeiro, there is a 70% chance it will end up here, on the other side of the scenic Guanabara Bay in one of the biggest garbage heaps in Latin America.”

CNN reports on the landfill and its pickers.


Listen to our playlist with music from the film on Spotify.

Garbage To Gold: Brazil’s Catadores Turn Trash Into Art

“I go and collect the trash and then I transform it into art,” said one catadore.

Read the full CNN article.

Scenes From The World’s Largest Garbage Dump

“So there I was, squelching knee-deep in trash in Rio’s scariest favela on a wet afternoon, my arms too sore from vaccinations to move, my whole body wrapped mummy-like in multiple layers of noisy plastic protective clothing fit for a moon-landing… Next item on the checklist was bulletproof vehicles. The garbage smells were mugging our noses.”

Read Walker’s full essay in The Guardian.

Where Art Meets Trash and Transforms Life

“I’m a product of a military dictatorship.… Under a dictatorship, you cannot trust information or dispense it freely because of censorship. So Brazilians become very flexible in the use of metaphors. They learn to communicate with double meanings.”

Read more about artist Vik Muniz in this fascinating New York Times profile.

Pickers Struggle from Landfill Closure

“The biggest difficulty is getting people to vindicate their rights,” said Tião Santos. Read more here.

Recyclers Turn Rio ‘Waste Land’ Into High Art

In this NPR interview, Walker said that when Tião found out about the film’s Oscar nomination, he was overjoyed and said, “I keep thinking that the clock is going to tick to midnight and I’m going to lose my shoes and things are going to go back to the way they were before the movie…  but then I remember that they can never go back the same, that this movie has changed everything for the recyclable materials pickers.”


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