Great Britain/Brazil
99 minutes

It isn't hard to see why Waste Land was one of the five films nominated for the feature documentary Academy Award. British director Lucy Walker's consummately polished story of how an artist's desire to give back to the community changes the lives of impoverished slum dwellers is an unequivocally feel-good, uplifting real-life tale that cries out for a Hollywood make-over and follows a time-honoured narrative arc from tragedy to triumph.
     And yet, ms. Walker's glossy, smart film doesn't shy away from the moral quandaries its central premise raises: is New York-based, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz's work with trash pickers at Rio de Janeiro's Jardim Gramacho landfill truly helping these people build a betrter life, or raising their dreams and expectations beyond what's feasible? Is it truly art for art's sake when there's an avowed social purpose underneath (mr. Muniz's portraits of the landfill recyclers, built out out of the same trash they pick daily, are to be auctioned with all profits reinvested into their community)?
     There are no clear cut answers and both mr. Muniz and ms. Walker make it clear that, in many ways, what comes out of this admirable experience is unable to be controlled. The film is not so much about mr. Muniz's artworks per se, as it is about the impact their creation and production has on their subjects (and full credit to the director for that). But the film still retains a fairy-tale, story-telling structure that conforms far too easily to narrative conventions, and its glossy finishes undermine the feeling of spontaneity and doubt that runs through much of the footage. This makes Waste Land into an awkward hybrid: a thought-provoking crowd-pleaser, as intriguing as it is a bit too pat for its own good.

Directed by Lucy Walker; co-directed by João Jardim, Karen Harley; produced by Angus Aynsley, Hank Levine; music by Moby; director of photography (Casablanca lab and transfer, Estúdios Mega post-production), Dudu Miranda; co-directors of photography, Heloísa Passos, Aaron Phillips; film editor, Pedro Kos. 
     An Almega Projects presentation of an Almega Projects/O2 Filmes production; supported by ANCINE, by the Cultural Incentive Law of the Brazilian Federal Government and Brazilian Ministry of Culture. (World sales, E1 Entertainment.) 
     Screened: distributor advance DVD screener, Lisbon, April 24th 2011. 


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