1. What is the research question Vic Muniz asks at the beginning of Wasteland? Does he get his answer by the end?
Vic wonders how and if he could change the lives of the pickers in the landfill close to where he grew up, in Rio de Janeiro. He finds out how; by interviewing some of Jardim Gramacho’s pickers and the people responsible for their business. After Vic and the crew get to know them better, he creates portraits out of garbage, dirt and recyclables from the landfill. In the end, the auction of some of the portraits as well as a very successful art gallery tell him that he was indeed able to change their lives. Many of the pickers who participated in making the portraits ended up finding other jobs or trying out new things, and the head of Jardim Gramacho was able to earn enough fame to spread his message and the purpose of his pickers better.
2. Is art an effective medium for bringing about social change? Think about the Pictures of Garbage art project and analyze the short- and long-term effects of the project on the community at the Jardim Gramacho landfill.
On one hand, during the making of the movie and for a good deal of time after, Vic’s art project was effective enough of a medium to bring about social change. It was pretty limited; most of the pickers were only able to wave at the camera for the film or know that they had good chances at making a bit more money for awhile at least. Amonst some of interviews, pickers and people like the head of Jardim Gramacho and the landfill’s cook were able to be photographed. Then, for those who could, they helped out with all of the work to complete the actual garbage based portraits. This encouraged some of the pickers to try and get out of the lives they were forced to have, going to work at the landfills and such. The head of Jardim Gramacho was able to go viral and solidify his organization as well as earn much more then the salaries that had been stolen while the filming was being done. The faith in him from Vic and the crew as well as his staff was able to wash away his doubts and fears to go on with Jardim Gramacho. Not everyone who tried leaving the landfill were successful, but I believe that even those who failed after the filming of the documentary were at least still happy, without regrets and stubborn heads to keep trying to make their lives work better.
3. What socioeconomic challenges were the catadores dealing with before the project started? How accurate was the art project and the film’s representation of the community and the issues the people there were facing?
Unfortunately, it wasn’t always easy to keep track of Vic’s artistic idea. They sure as hell made an impact on the world and his subjects though. He also let some of his subjects chose how they wanted to go about their portraits. It may not have always been able to represent absolutely every one of the catadores, but it gave a good overall example. We could see a bit of their community this way. Before the project started, everyone’s biggest problem was dealing with rich folk who were trying to take away their home and their organization.
4. This documentary was made by the award-winning British director Lucy Walker. How do you think the film might have been different if a member of the Jardim Gramacho community had directed it? How does the perspective of the storyteller shape our understanding of communities other than our own?
I honestly cannot tell for sure how a member of Jardim Gramacho would direct the movie. Maybe the president of the organization would have focused on the vice-president who passed away shortly after the start of the filming. Otherwise, there’s a chance that some of them would have focused on themselves, or some of the most miserable of the lot. Maybe one of them would give a positive view of the landfills and what the pickers their do while still trying to send the message that they need more support. One would have to ask some of the members of Jardim Gramacho.
5. What research methods are used in this film? How are they used?
The research methods were interviews and through other crew members. The interviewer had his own interview at the beginning of the movie. This showed just how much the project meant to him as well as his relation to Rio. Next would be the crew members who searched out the place and everything about Jardim Gramacho, even their prices to help compensate using the materials they usually sold or had to dispose of. As for the rest of the methods, it was mostly the interviews of the pickers chosen for the portraits as well as certain people with more particular jobs in the landfill.
6. What specific improvements came about as a result of the project? What circumstances are the people of Jardim Gramacho still struggling with and working to change? Did the art project itself raise any issues within the community?
Unfortunately, today Jardim Gramacho does not exist anymore. The cause of the documentary as well as Vic’s did all it could while they could, but ultimately solutions about the pollution many environmentalists believed was being produced there were given for Rio and its landfill, over 1,700 people losing their jobs because of this.
7. What role did community organizing play in the project’s outcomes? How might the impact of the project have been different if there were no community-led programs already in place at the landfill?
A community that feels like a family is a good subject for the project. We get close to everyone we see in the movie as they grow closer and gain strength and confidence. There’s a chance that a community for the landfill might have been less interesting. Or it would have been harder to get a hold on someone in charge who would be open to talk about the landfill, because if it weren’t for Jardim Gramacho, all the recycling and trash might have never been filtered. Maybe instead the idea for the art project would have been different if Vic had a completely different crowd to pick people to interview before making some form of art with them.
8. Research other community art projects and compare and contrast the strategies and impact of each.
Many community projects that I’ve witnessed in action usually involve events decicated to the community’s cause, with an open call to graffiti the canvas put up around or concerts organized by the community. It’s easy enough to at least get a crowd of curious folk, but usually family and friends come to support the events and non-members who hold the cause to heart come to the call to participate and enourage people to follow their example. This kind of strategy reaches out more to people who outside the community to bring awareness, while helping a cause like a orphan’s home for example. It’s not bad but for the most part, the community is filled with fortunate people trying to help an organization thrive. Not the unfortunate trying to get out there and make a few extra pennies for a certain amount of time.