Overwhelmed by the options on Netflix Instant? Lizzie Rodgers recommends a 2010 film about an artist obsessed with garbage.


When I read the description of Wasteland on Netflix, I believed it to be, basically like any other documentary, a movie about an interesting topic with an emotional pull. After watching the documentary, I realized the questions the film poses about poverty and privilege take it slightly above the average documentary.  Directed by Lucy Walker, Wasteland is about the “pickers” of Rio de Janeiro and Vik Muniz, a modern artist from Brazil but based in Brooklyn. These pickers rummage through the garbage of one of the largest landfills in the world, located in the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, looking for whatever recyclable material their bosses have requested. Muniz decides to spend two years in Rio de Janeiro gathering garbage for artwork, turning it into manipulated photography with the pickers. His goal is to give back to a community he was once a part of, as a lower-middle class Brazilian, by bringing money into the picker community through the sales of his artwork.

Not only does the film provide the heart-wrenching life stories of the handful of pickers Muniz chooses to work with, but it also sheds some light into his artistic process. While he is the creative director of the project, he encourages the pickers to do most of the artwork themselves. Muniz goes into the project hoping he can better the lives of the people he works with. He gives them a new job and offers them chances to travel with him to London for the art auctions. But when his two-year project in Brazil is over, what will come of the pickers with whom he worked? Will their lives be any better? These are just some of the conflicts presented in this beautiful, thought-provoking documentary.