Waste Land

This documentary from Brazil (with English captions) studies the "contadores" who sift through unbelievable quantities of garbage at Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill, just outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. These professionals view themselves as recyclers, not trash pickers, and have an active union with several thousand members.

Transplanted Brazilian artist Vik Munoz travels from New York to his native country to film, interview and feature a variety of these folks. In this award-winning project (Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals), he photographs dozens of them, then transforms each portrait into a collage using found items from the landfill itself. In turn, he takes pictures of these collages and offers them at art auctions and museums. The money goes back to the individual who was photographed.

Like any other study, the item being studied is transformed by the study itself. We follow the evolution of his subjects and admire their stubborn pride, their ambition and their unique beauty, while at the same time, we recoil from the unexpected impact on a few, and the unrealistic expectations of others.

Our audience at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival appreciated the snippets during the final credits that told us what has happened to some of the people we have come to care about.