Monday, 16 July 2012

Review - Wasteland (2010 - Dir. Lucy Walker, Karen Harley,João Jardim)

This is a bizarre film. It's interesting and thought provoking, however not necessarily that awe inspiring. The premise of the documentary is to follow artist Vik Muniz as he creates art from the lives of the workers and recycled materials of the largest landfill site in all of Brazil. The film is enjoyable on some levels and less so on others, and can basically be split into three distinct areas.

1. As an investigation into the lives of the Jardin Gramacho 'pickers' the film provided an excellent portrayal of the tough and exhausting lives of the team of workers who root through tons of rubbish to scavenge for all manner of recycled material. The stories of all the participants were handled beautifully and it was a heart-warming experience to see the camaraderie and sense of family in the pickers association. If nothing else the project lifted their self esteem and bank balances, at least in the short term.

2. The exploration of Muniz's artistic process was also fascinating. From the initial concept and photography, through to the final gallery displays the attention to detail and love of the subject matter was evident. Ultimately the art was at times breathtaking in its scale and relevance. Muniz takes the idea of a 'large Art Attack' to a whole new level and just shows what Neil Buchanan could have achieved if he'd been given the budget to take Art Attack to global locations.

3. The most disappointing part of the film is the project itself, which left me feeling the participants had been used in some way. Vik's plan had certain aspects in common with the plot of  'My Fair Lady', but attempting to make the pickers into world famous artists which left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. The film doesn't shirk the issue as Vic's wife brilliantly voices her concerns and wariness, but Vic disappointingly refuses to listen and basically tells her to 'shut it.'  I'm sure he would argue the creation of this sense of 'unease' in the viewer is all part of the art. It did really make me think, but I'm still not sure of the morality of the whole project.

At first glance the juxtaposition of grittiness and art looks like an odd combination, but Walker produces an excellent and at times moving documentary that is engaging for both grit fans and art aficionados. If only they'd gone with Andy Goldsworthy instead of Muniz - the mind boggles at what he could have achieved.

If you like this you could also try:
Rivers and Tides - Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time, Love Is The Devil, Art Attack - Top 20 (VHS).

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