Wasteland - by Lucy Walker
A documentary following the New York artist Vik Muniz and his three year project to create a series of artworks with a community of garbage pickers at the Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio, the world’s largest garbage dump. The garbage pickers (the cantadores) work collecting recyclable materials from the waste in the landfill, and sell it to brokers to earn their living. Their work is hard and unpleasant – but is at least honest, in comparison with the way-of-life for many in the favela districts where the garbage pickers live.
The pickers are all unique characters, often with quite a philosophical outlook, and the film tracks their changing relationship with Vik as he becomes a greater part of their lives. The pickers’ aspirations change, as they become involved in something bigger, and start to discuss their hopes for the future. Vik auctions the final artworks, and gives the proceeds to the pickers.
The documentary is titled after T S Elliot’s poem The Waste Land, which has motifs of fear, disillusionment and moral decay – but in contrast Lucy Walker’s film displays the resilience of the human spirit and the uplifting potential for dirt and squalor to be transformed into something of beauty. [ Amazon UK US ]
The Age of Stupid - by Franny Armstrong
Franny Armstrong’s film The Age of Stupid is a mix of post-apocalyptic drama set in the future after an environmental collapse, and compelling recent documentary footage of people and communities across the globe. Unable to get mainstream funding Franny financed her film through crowd-sourced donations, and secured the late actor Pete Postlethwaite in the key role. Franny also founded Spanner Films and was a key instigator of the 10:10 carbon reduction campaign.
The documentary footage is touching; from the New Orleans oil exploration worker whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, to the French Alpine tour guide struggling to come to terms with the melting of the glaciers he has known all his life. The most compelling of the six documentarys is the story of two young Iraqi children, living as refugees in Jordan after the death of their Father in the war.
The power of the film lies in the way it refocusses climate change as a humanitarian disaster, ultimately asking the question “why didn’t we stop global warming when we had the chance”. [ Amazon UK US ]
Born into Brothels - by Zana Briski
Zana Briski is a multi award winning photgrapher and film-maker, and her documentary Born into Brothels looks into the hard and broken lives of Kolkata’s red light district Sonagchi, from the perspective of the prostitutes’ children.
Surrounded by a hopeless, corrupting and often violent world of abject poverty, the children’s characters still shine through. After meeting Zana, and being giving cameras and being taught the basics of photography, they set about not only documenting their surroundings, but also commentating, often insightfully, on their conditions and lives.
The film is often hard watching, but for many of the children there is ultimately a happy ending, with them getting places in good schools away from the brothels – something normally impossible for the stigmatised children of prostitutes in India.