People Watching; A Transformational Experience
Yesterday I saw an amazing documentary – Waste Land. The film follows renowned Brazilian artist, Vik Muniz, as he travels from Brooklyn NY to Jardim Gramacho in Rio de Janeiro- the largest garbage dump in the world.
If never thought twice about throwing out a piece of paper or a plastic bottle, watch this film and you will through any effort to dispose of your trash in the correct way. The mountains of garbage are astounding and it makes you wonder if we are not well in our way to be buried in it.
But what is transformational are the people portrayed in this documentary; women, men and children making a living by going through the garbage to find and then separate recyclable materials to sell. Doing all of it with a sense of pride and community.
The subjects of this documentary are mostly illiterate, but their sense of contentment is huge. They are able to turn working in a garbage dump into a society of individuals who are doing a service; recycling and thus helping the environment.
Vik Muniz created a series of portraits of the garbage pickers – together with them – using photography and actual garbage. The pieces have been sold all over the world and have raised over $250,000; money being used to help the community. The president of the garbage/recycling pickers at the end of the art project was flown to London to watch the auction of his own portrait. The documentary – about Vik, the garbage pickers, and the art project – was nominated for an Oscar.
The garbage pickers who are people living in shacks who work sifting through garbage are now shaking hands with environmentalists from all over the world, going to art openings, museum, auctions, and being guests in television shows.
There is a scene in the film where Vic Muniz discusses with his wife and assistant if it is correct to open such doors to this group of people if most likely at the end – when the art and documentary projects are finished – they will go back to their lives of picking through garbage. The wife is uncertain but Vic asks her: “If I offered you to fly to London to see things you never seen before but told you at the end you would go back to your old life, would you want to go? Wouldn’t seeing other things in the world force you to come up with a plan to live differently?”
And the answer is yes to both.
So besides learning about recycling and visually being confronted with a huge environmental problem by watching Waste Land, we also get to experience how the strength of a community can create a sense of honor, purpose, and contentment. We also see how one incident can transform people’s lives. Vic Muniz’ idea to do a series of portraits that involved garbage and recycling set in motion a worldwide change. We see in this documentary how opportunity can really come out of nowhere to anybody in ways we could never imagine. It reminds us of the magic of life.
The last thing Vik Muniz said in the documentary was that as he was growing up poor he dreamed and worked to become successful. The path to get there gave meaning to his life. Now that he has all the material things he could possible want, he lacks meaning which gave purpose to his life. He says he is in a process of shifting the want for material for the want for community. Now he knows the ultimate meaning in life; empathy and compassion.