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"Waste Land" director Lucy Walker said a trip to a Staten Island landfill helped inspire her award-winning documentary about the world's largest dump.
Speaking to an intimate audience as part of the React to Film series at Soho House Monday night, the NYU alum said a trip to Fresh Kills landfill with a pal who taught a graduate course in garbage is what inspired her to pair up with Brooklyn-based, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz and travel to the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro to document the biggest landfill on the planet.
"That was the first light-bulb moment," Walker said of her visit to Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. "[I realized], 'Oh my God. Everything I throw away does not vanish. ... It comes to this place, and I'm standing on it, and it's a horrifying, embarrassing idea that everything I've ever thrown away is actually still hanging around in this landfill.'"
The result was a powerful documentary that follows Muniz to the world's largest dump, Jardim Gramacho, where he photographs and develops relationships with the characters who scour the hulking garbage pile for recyclables.
"I didn't set out to make an uplifting film," Walker said. "I set out to make an honest film. And if the film had been depressing as a consequence I would have faithfully documented that too."