This interview was originally published when Lucy Walker’s “Waste Land” played at MoMA earlier in the year, as part of their annual Premiere Brazil! Festival. The documentary opens in New York on Friday, October 29.
A testament to the transformative power of art, Lucy Walker’s moving documentary “Waste Land” (a winner at Berlin and Sundance) is tailor made to screen at the world’s preeminent modern art space, given her main subject and inspiration for the project: famed contemporary artist Vik Muniz.
“Waste Land” documents Muniz’s three-year collaboration with the catadores who make a living picking recyclables from Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill located outside of Rio de Janeiro. Muniz, who grew up in Rio, travels home to shine a light on the hardships endured by catadores, by having them assist him in creating massive recyclable art projects.
The documentary’s MoMA premiere is especially meaningful for Walker, for it mirrors in many ways the climax of her film, when Muniz unveils his undertaking at Rio’s own Museum of Modern Art, with the catadores in attendance. Though neither Muniz or the catadores will be present for the film’s New York premiere, Walker (a New York University alum) will be, and is elated to show it to an art-loving crowd.
“The Museum of Modern Art in Rio is very comparable to MoMA,” Walker told indieWIRE from Los Angeles, “and MoMA has been tremendously important and pivotal in Vik’s career. So it’s completely fantastic and exciting that the movie will be at MoMA. It’s the perfect venue.”
Walker, a longtime fan of Muniz, said she didn’t set out to simply make a retrospective of his work. It was this project in particular that fueled her desire to collaborate with him on a film. Muniz’s approach was to find the most fascinating of the catadores, photograph them, blow up their photos, and then add recycled materials on top of the blown-up photographs to create a layered effect. The finished product that Muniz exhibited were photos taken of the final creations from a three-story vantage point.
“What I was drawn to in Vik’s work was the concept of peering from a distance and then getting closer,” Walker said. “To me this is what the film’s about. But I also wanted to delve into this concept of portraiture. What I love as a documentary filmmaker is that I choose these far and away worlds where I encounter and meet people I don’t meet in my normal daily life. This is what I really get off on.”
Walker said she’s been surprised by the success her film has found on the festival circuit thus far, especially given the film’s subject matter (“it’s a movie about art and garbage, not an easy pitch”).
“I am so touched by the response that people have shown towards the film,” she said. “For people to really open their hearts to these catadores who live in the garbage dump and utterly vilified by the world around them, and who feel like such outcasts for the work they’re doing, is truly special. Their work is so environmentally brilliant and necessary. They’re the ones doing the dirty job for the rest of us.”