Waste Land

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Waste Land Movie Poster Image
Inspiring documentary portrays the dignity of the poor.
  • NR
  • 2010
  • 98 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

This film is filled with positive, inspiring themes, including courage, empathy, and humility. Creativity and artistry are seen as life-changing, gratifying, and sustaining. Even in situations of abject poverty and hopelessness, people are able to find dignity, as well as times of joy and satisfaction for hard work. Uniting in a common cause as the "association of pickers" can produce profound benefits for all and promotes teamwork and perseverance.. And, finally, single individuals willing to devote energy, resources, and time can impact the world, especially when they have the support of others. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The real life people who appear in this film, whether in positions of power or as victims of a poverty-stricken society, are shown to be resilient, committed to positive change, worthy of admiration, and, in some cases, heroic. The film is a reminder that each of us has the capacity to make the world a better place for ourselves and/or others.


No violence, but some disturbing scenes and subjects. Scenes of poverty: people living in very close quarters, surviving on little food, seeing their children rarely. And sad stories of lost children, illness, and loss.


Some discussion of prostitution, i.e. "turning tricks." Some sexy costumes are visible in a parade.


A few coarse words sprinkled throughout: "s--t," "bulls--t," "crap," "screwed."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Brief references in conversation to drug dealing, drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Waste Land explores the challenging lives of incredibly poor people who work in an enormous bleak, smelly landfill outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The poverty and hopelessness of the setting are successfully countered, however, by the movie's in-depth portrayal of some of the landfill's residents and some extraordinary people who are committed to helping them. What could be depressing, disturbing, or simply sad (especially for kids not mature enough to discern the complexities of such a situation), is, in fact, uplifting, triumphant, and encourages people to look beneath the surface of victimhood to see the humanity and dignity that lives there. There are references to other options for the landfill workers, which include prostitution, drug dealing and other criminal activity.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjlstsell March 7, 2012

Inspiring Film for Global Awareness

This film is brilliantly done, like all things Vik Muniz. Muniz puts his whole heart into everything he does and his passion is contagious. It is awe-inspiring... Continue reading

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What's the story?

In WASTE LAND, Vik Muniz, a renowned artist living in New York, journeys to Brazil to "give something back" to the country of his birth and impoverished childhood. He chooses to bring his art to Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest landfill just outside of Rio de Janeiro, in which thousands of workers spend their days (and years) scavenging through Rio's trash for recyclables which they sell to eke out a meager living. Their homes are lean-tos and shacks; the air they breathe is filled with pollutants; the smell is horrific; the work is exhausting and difficult. To Vik's utter amazement, the people he meets are wiser and more resilient than he could have imagined. What began as a vague, altruistic idea becomes a meaningful, transforming life event for Vik, his team, and the residents of "The Garbage Garden."

Is it any good?

This film is heartbreaking, enlightening, and inspiring all at once. Lucy Walker, the director of this documentary, nominated for a 2010 Academy Award, must consider herself  a very lucky filmmaker. Just as Vik Muniz couldn't possibly have known what he would find in his year-long journey to a trash dump, Walker's commitment to make a film about it must have been based simply on trust and instinct. What they found -- the astonishing people and community they encountered -- and what Muniz and his fellow artists were able to accomplish is miraculous.

Waste Land is one to be shared and will provoke thought and conversation about art, poverty, and an individual's ability to make a difference.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the ability of one man, in this case Vik Muniz, to make a difference in the world. What elements were included in Waste Land to make Muniz appear like a hero? What do you think was left out? Are there opportunities in your community to "give something back"?

  • What is the message this movie sends about art and creativity? Some think the arts are superfluous -- does this movie make a compelling argument otherwise?

  • What issues did Muniz have to consider when deciding whether or not to do this project? What do you think happened to the artist and the people after filming ended? Did Muniz make responsible decisions in regard to the pickers?

  • What messages does the movie send about the environment and our impact on it?

  • How does Waste Land promotes courage, empathy, and humility? What about perseverance and teamwork? Why are those important character strengths?

Movie details

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