Rio onscreen at the Oscars

Wasteland documentary will walk the red carpet

With the Brazilian blockbuster Elite Squad 2 making the rounds of the Sundance and Berlin film festivals and the animated feature Rio preparing for a global launch in April, Fernando Meirelles’ Wasteland was selected yesterday to represent Brazil at the Oscar awards. The documentary, directed by Lucy Walker, João Jardim and Karen Harley, was highly praised by U.S. reviewers for its upbeat angle, and has just opened in Brazil.

Not bad for the “marvelous city”, although Hollywood and the world may remember Rio more for its corrupt, violent police force and its vile trash dump– than as the scenery for an avian love story. Ticket sales will tell.

Lixo Extraordinário, 1992

Wasteland is about how renowned Brazilian artist Vik Muniz transformed trash into art and just possibly as well, the trashpickers he connected with at Jardim Gramacho, Rio’s overflowing dump that is said to be Latin America’s largest. Informal recycling has been going on there since the dump , which is actually located on the edge of Guanabara Bay in the poor bedroom suburb of Duque de Caxias, came into existence in the 1970s.

Comlurb, Rio’s trash collection and urban cleaning service, has been working to improve the dump since 1995 and has had some success. However, as Wasteland documents, there are still legions of trashpickers living off it in highly dangerous conditions. Worse, engineers have long been condemning it due to ground instability that could cause decomposed trash to pour into the bay– an ecological disaster in waters already too polluted.

In a risk-fraught situation similiar to that of the informal housing built on hillsides  that contributed to the recent mudslides in the mountains north of Rio, causing more than 800 deaths, no definitive action has been taken to deal with Rio de Janeiro’s trash disposal. Brazil’s growing middle class and its consumer spree exacerbates the problem. Gramacho is reportedly slated to close in 2012, once a new dump in Seropédica–a city further west than Duque de Caxias– is ready. Formal trash recycling in Rio de Janeiro is spotty. Here is a municipal site describing the new dump and plans to close the old one.

The photo above was taken on a visit almost 20 years ago to Jardim Gramacho, during the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Trashpickers wearing only their underwear separated different kinds of plastic that were then weighed onsite and trucked back out for processing. At that time Governor Leonel Brizola had vowed to close the dump. “It’s like a mother to me,” lamented a frightened trashpicker whose shack was fully furnished from it. A slimy, smelly, invasive mother by now.

Click here to read more about this film and trashpicking, in English.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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