(directors: Lucy Walker/João Jardim/Karen Harley; cinematographer: Dudu Miranda; editor: Pedro Kos; music: Moby; cast: Vik Muniz; Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Angus Aynsley/Hank Levine; Arthouse Films; 2010-USA-in English and Portuguese, with English subtitles)

It makes for a good human interest story.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A compelling documentary directed by the Britisher Lucy Walker (“Blindsight”/”Countdown to Zero”/”Devil’s Playground“) and co-directed by João Jardim and Karen Harleyn. It tells of Vik Muniz, the successful Brazilian artist, now living in Brooklyn, who visitsRio de Janeiro’s immense Jardim Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill (handles about 7,000 tons of garbage daily), for a special project. The dump also serves as a village, populated by some 3,000 “pickers” who go through the piles of garbage looking for recyclable materials. Thereby the plucky pickers can earn a survival income, as they receive about $20 to $25 a day for their wages for turning in such items as plastic and bottles.

Vik and his assistant Fabio take a tour of Jardim in order to see which pickers they can photograph, as they then apply their art of using the garbage as part of the art work. The artist is known for recreating famous art pieces like Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa twice, once with peanut butter and again with jelly. Vik and Fabio choose six subjects for the photos and when the work is completed they sell them at a London auction. One item goes for $50,000. The idea is to help the community of pickers by having the money used from the art sold at the auction to set up programs specially aimed to give the workers a chance to have a better life, if they so choose. It’s Vik’s belief in the artistic power of transformation, which will give the unfortunates a better life when they experience his art work.

These marginalized people are hard-workers and are all very likable, who are humanized by being made subjects of art and are given a look at another way of life; while the viewer gets a chance to briefly see how Vik works. In the meantime the popular artist is also enriched by his spiritual good deed, knowing he’s giving back to those in the community who were also born poor like he was but weren’t lucky enough to escape their fate.It makes for a good human interest story.

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