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Waste Land (2010)


Average Rating: 8.1/10
Reviews Counted: 68
Fresh: 68
Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Waste Land begins with an eco-friendly premise, but quickly transforms into an uplifting portrait of the power of art and the dignity of the human spirit.

Average Rating: 7.8/10
Reviews Counted: 18
Fresh: 18
Rotten: 0

Critics Consensus: Waste Land begins with an eco-friendly premise, but quickly transforms into an uplifting portrait of the power of art and the dignity of the human spirit.


Average Rating: 4.3/5
User Ratings: 7,071


Movie Info

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 self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz's initial objective was to "paint" the catadores with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate … More

Documentary , Musical & Performing Arts , Art House & International
Directed By:
In Theaters:
Mar 15, 2011
Box Office:
Arthouse Films - Official Site

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Critic Reviews for Waste Land

All Critics (68) | Top Critics (18) | Fresh (68) | Rotten (0) | DVD (1)

I do not mean to make their lives seem easy or pleasant. It is miserable work, even after they grow accustomed to the smell. But it is useful work, and I have been thinking much about the happiness to be found by work that is honest and valuable.

Full Review… | February 10, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

It shows us how artists find ideas and concepts for their work from the most unlikely sources, and it demonstrates the power of art to spark curiosity and cultural awareness in even the poorest, most underprivileged people.

Full Review… | January 31, 2011
Miami Herald
Top Critic

While we await the definitive documentary about the glut of garbage, "Waste Land" reduces this global catastrophe to touchingly human scale.

Full Review… | December 10, 2010
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Top Critic

It's sheer pleasure watching Muniz work -- seeing him seized by mad impulses of delight.

Full Review… | December 3, 2010
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

"Waste Land" is a testament that things can go from good to bad in an instant. But they can also improve just as quickly.

Full Review… | December 3, 2010
Washington Post
Top Critic

It's not a very good title, Waste Land - this isn't a bleak film, at all - but just about everything else in Lucy Walker's documentary works, and illuminates.

Full Review… | December 2, 2010
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

This conversion of garbage into humanitarian aid is just the beginning. Practical charity gives way to life-changing intimacy.

Full Review… | June 12, 2012

The breadth of gratitude these catadores feel towards Muniz and the life-experience they undertake makes for an intelligent, emotional movie.

Full Review… | November 30, 2011

Waste Land is a real treasure, the sort of heartwarming and life affirming study of people, lacking in both sentimentality and cynicism, that uplifts the audience and elevates the art form

Full Review… | August 19, 2011

Waste Land fuses the design concepts behind two of the most high-profile animations of recent years, Rio and the Oscar-winning Wall-E, into an essay about how hard some people are prepared to work.

Full Review… | April 13, 2011
Birmingham Post

The result is a film that works on multiple levels, casting light on a worldwide problem while delivering a big jolt of human hope.

Full Review… | March 3, 2011
Kansas City Star

Muniz is a gifted, modest and altogether delightful man, and his project is both aesthetically fascinating and philosophically stimulating.

Full Review… | February 28, 2011

It's inspiring, humbling and beautifully made.

Full Review… | February 28, 2011
Daily Express

A well-made and often uplifting film that refuses to get angry yet still manages to point out that things aren't as they should be for a great many.

Full Review… | February 25, 2011
This is London

More self-conscious, subtle exploration than the dubious bleeding-heart PR stunt implied by its premise.

Full Review… | February 25, 2011

Well made and impressively structured, this is a heartwarming, genuinely inspirational and ultimately deeply moving film that has deservedly picked up an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.

Full Review… | February 25, 2011

The glimpses of favela life will make you thank your lucky stars you weren't born there.

Full Review… | February 25, 2011

Perhaps not life-changing but certainly life-affirming.

Full Review… | February 24, 2011
Little White Lies

This is undoubtedly a bold raid into an unknown territory - both geographic and conceptual - that the prosperous classes prefer not to think about.

Full Review… | February 24, 2011

Walker finds inspiration and strange beauty in the squalor.

Full Review… | February 24, 2011
Daily Telegraph

As in her memorable Blindsight, in which sightless climbers took on Everest, Walker celebrates the indomitability of the human spirit.

Full Review… | February 23, 2011
Financial Times

A remarkable testament to working class lives and the unifying power of art, Waste Land is a rare thing - a film that makes you proud to be human.

Full Review… | February 23, 2011
Sky Movies

Compelling and vivid, it's another fine piece of work from an up-and-coming talent.

Full Review… | February 22, 2011
Empire Magazine

A reminder of humanity's ability to transcend its surroundings through art or just plain optimism.

Full Review… | February 22, 2011
Total Film

Walker's documentary is moving, life-affirming and challenges what you think you might know about these people who pick through the rubbish.

Full Review… | February 19, 2011
Eye for Film

Audience Reviews for Waste Land

It's easy to say that Vik Muniz benefited more so than others with the success of this film but I genuinely believe his heart was in the right place and he really did set out to tell a story and to help others out. In the end, the people who he did choose did work for what they achieved, although shame about the less charismatic pickers who weren't chosen. They do discuss the way they are changing peoples lives in the film and I think they came to the right conclusion. This is a great story about a subject the world wouldn't otherwise know about, Jardim Gramacho is now closed but in its place an educational centre has now been built all from the money raised from this film. It's win win all round and if you want feel good, this is the film for you!

Anthony Lawrie

Super Reviewer

What happens in the world's largest trash city will transform you.


A touching documentary that truely depicts a great artist and humanitarian. I loved the movie from start to end and it moved me deeply.

Overall I highly recommend everyone to watch this movie, its amazing, and beautiful! Watch it!

Zumbi: "We have to think about the future because I don't want my son to be a picker. Although if he is, I'd be very proud... But I'd rather he be a lawyer to represent the pickers, you know."

Pedro Holanda

Super Reviewer


A powerful and extremely moving documentary that delves into the creative process of an artist and shows how art can really change people. The most fascinating though about this involving real story is to see the deep and unexpected relationship that grows between the artist and the people that are the subject of his unlike creation.

Carlos Magalhćes

Super Reviewer


Waste Land is a documentary about the Brazilian artist Vik Muniz and his "social work" with workers from the garbage dump Jardim Gramacho. All that poverty is heartbreaking and outrageous in a country with absurd social differences where a few people have a monthly wage that could save lot of families. At the end of the film I could only think how unfair the situation is - Muniz had an amazing and beautiful gesture, but the real changes in the community and their lives were minimal - and felt like that Boris's quote*:

"But what do you do? You read about some massacre in Darfur or some school bus gets blown up, and you go "Oh my God, the horror," and then you turn the page and finish your eggs from the free range chickens. Because what can you do? It's overwhelming!".

Because, what can we do? As the Brazilian filmmaker Joćo Moreira Salles says, it would be an illusion to think that a documentary can change the world and its characters. Vik Muniz did his part and it must be enough.

Other films had already explored this theme like Ilha das Flores (Isle of Flowers, by Jorge Furtado) and Estamira (directed by Macros Prado), both stronger than Waste Land**. This documentary is important to both social and artistic worlds, but it's quite normal as a film. The soundtrack, composed by Mody, sounds superficial and too much melodramatic sometimes. The same happens to some scenes like the one where Vik Muniz, alone in his place, looks to the world globe in his hands with a desolate expression. It's one of those poor scenes where we can almost listen the director saying: take the globe in your hands, look at it, make a sad face, you miss those people, yes, like that, good, that's it . Cut.

* Whatever Works, by Woody Allen.
**There's also the documentary Boca de Lixo, directed by Edurado Coutinho, that I haven't seen yet.

Rubia Carolina

Super Reviewer

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