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INDEPENDENT LENS: Waste Land

Airs Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Vik Muniz at the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro.

Filmed over nearly three years, "Waste Land" follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of catadores — or garbage pickers.

Vik Muniz takes the photo of Tião as Marat in "Waste Land."
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Above: Vik Muniz takes the photo of Tião as Marat in "Waste Land."

Final Tião photographic print entitled “Marat/Sebastio – Pictures of Garbage.”
Enlarge this image

Above: Final Tião photographic print entitled “Marat/Sebastio – Pictures of Garbage.”

The catadores are the ultimate marginalized population; unemployed in any traditional sense of the word, they resort to picking valuable recyclable materials from the garbage thrown away by those in Brazil more fortunate than themselves.

But they display remarkably good spirits and camaraderie in the face of their lot in life, forming friendships and, in the case of the elderly Valter, declaring the crucial and meaningful role they play in remediating the results of the modern culture of over consumption and careless disposal.

Under the leadership of the young, charismatic picker Tião, they have even created a co-operative to pool their labor and resources to maximize their income.

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. But upon meeting the amazing characters who work at the landfill, he decides to turn the project into a collaboration with the catadores themselves.

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Video Excerpt: Independent Lens: Waste Land

Above: In "Waste Land," artist Vik Muniz photographs Tiao -- one of the catadores ("garbage pickers") in the world's largest garbage dump in Brazil -- in a pose reminiscent of David's painting "The Death of Marat."

Video

Video Excerpt: Waste Land

Above: "Waste Land" follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. For catador Valeria, collaborating with Muniz and her community on artworks made from recycled materials has been a bittersweet experience, since she's now reluctant to return to being a garbage picker, the life she knows best.

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Director Lucy Walker Discusses 'Waste Land'

Above: Director Lucy Walker discusses her Oscar-nominated documentary "Waste Land." The film follows Brazilian artist Vik Muniz as he creates portraits of people using found materials from the places where they live and work. We meet Muniz as he embarks on his next project, inspired by the trash pickers at the largest landfill on earth.