Everything is transformed
“Nohing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed.” The possibilities of the famous quote from the chemist Antoine Lavoisier gain significance when faced with the reality of Jardim Gramacho, a neighborhood in the city of Duque de Caxias, in the state of Rio de Janeiro – where the largest waste landfill in Latin America is located. There, more than five thousand people find their daily sustenance, searching amongst the garbage for anything that can be sold, re-used or recycled. Who would believe that anything other than misery could be extracted from such a place?
The cinematographers João Jardim, Karen Harley and Lucy Walker did when the visual artist Vik Muniz told them precisely that. Previously, Vik himself had believed in the people of Gramacho’s capacity to produce art from trash. Sebastião Carlos dos Santos, president of the Association of Recycling Pickers of Jardim Gramacho, also believed in Vik. From this chain of belief, the documentary Lixo Extraordinário (‘Waste Land’) was born. It tells the story of the work that the artist developed with the landfill pickers.
Over almost three years, using waste products as raw material, Vik and the inhabitants of Gramacho recreated day-to-day garbage as art, in photographs, pictures and paintings. In the process, Sebastião, the popular Tião, and their colleagues rediscovered their own dignity and the existence of a world outside the 1.5 million square meters of the landfill. The resulting film was not only nominated for an Oscar in 2011 for Best Feature Documentary, but won the Audience Award at the Sundance (USA) and Berlin (Germany) film festivals.
“I expected to see destroyed people, but they were survivors”, stated Vik Muniz about his contact with the pickers. From the original idea (to portray the people who survive off the garbage dump), the project evolved into a collaboration between the renowned New York-based Brazilian artist and the humble workers of Gramacho. Vik collaborated with people whose families have been picking garbage at the landfill for three generations. The apex of the narrative is the sale of the painting in which the artist depicted Tião posing in a bath-tub – evoking the death of the revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), murdered during the French Revolution whilst taking a bath. In London, the piece was sold for R$ 74,000, money which was donated to the Association of Recycling Pickers. Before the scene of the sale, we hear the stories of people such as Zumbi (who started a library with books found in the trash) and Irma (who cooks meals with any acceptable food that she can fi nd). “The moment when one thing transforms into another is the most beautiful moment – and this applies to everything”, summarizes Vik.
Petrobras also believed in this story of transformation and, through its Public Selection of Diffusion, a sponsorship project geared towards the distribution of Brazilian films, helped Lixo Extraordinário reach festivals and the commercial circuit (the film premiered in January). “We give financial support for the production of copies and for publicity campaigns”, explains Romildo Nascimento, Cinema Sponsorship coordinator at Petrobras. The work developed by Vik Muniz and the pickers also influenced the approval. “Besides the artistic quality of the documentary, the idea of social redemption promoted by the film touches on issues that are very dear to the company. The presence of Vik, a great Brazilian artist of world renown, helped attract attention to the project.”
A cinema thing
Through the Petrobras Cultural Program, which periodically announces notices for the production and diffusion of short and feature-length fi lms and for sponsorship of screenings and festivals, the company is the largest supporter of Brazilian cinema. “Our incentives are widespread: they range from production support to sponsorship of classic film restorations and include the fostering of study centers like the Darcy Ribeiro School of Cinema (in Rio de Janeiro) and the Nova Iguaçu School of Cinema (Rio de Janeiro state)”, says Romildo Nascimento. Since 1994, the year of the so-called retaking of national cinema, Petrobras has contributed to the production of more than 500 films, including commercial successes such as Daniel Filho’s 2006 film Se Eu Fosse Você (‘If I Were You’), Tropa de Elite (‘Elite Squad’) by José Padilha, released in 2007, and the 2008 hit Meu Nome Não é Johnny (‘My Name Ain’t Johnny’), directed by Mauro Lima. Among forthcoming releases bearing the company’s name, are Jefferson De’s Bróder, Não se Pode Viver Sem Amor (‘Love Is All We Need’) by Jorge Duran and Não se Preocupe, que Nada Vai Dar Certo, directed by Hugo Carvana.