British documentary-maker Lucy Walker profiles the Brazilian, New York-based artist Vik Muniz as he works on a project which touches on issues relating to his own modest background and the responsibility of offering a temporary leg-up to those with limited opportunities. Walker joins Muniz as he travels to Rio de Janeiro’s vast Jardim Gramacho rubbish dump to photograph those who make a living from sorting rubbish into recyclable materials. These ‘pickers’ scramble over garbage, collecting it and selling it for paltry amounts. Muniz offers a bridge between their world and his by transforming his photos into giant portraits composed from rubbish and enlisting workers to help him with the project. He then auctions them to fund community programmes.
Walker clearly – and justly – admires Muniz but doesn’t make much of an effort to persuade us of the same. As such, it’s hard not to worry about these workers being given a glimpse of a new life and feel that the real story begins when the camera’s off. That said, she focuses as much on the lives of pickers as on Muniz, even if, with so many elements to her tale, it only ever feels like she’s skating on the surface of a more meaty and questioning film rather than a mildly troubling but mostly uplifting one.