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Arts & Culture

INDEPENDENT LENS: Waste Land

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

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

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.

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.

Follow "Waste Land" on Facebook and Twitter.

Video Excerpt: Independent Lens: Waste Land
Video Excerpt: Waste Land
Director Lucy Walker Discusses 'Waste Land'

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