Watching WASTE LAND and Visiting Immaculata with my Salvadoran mother-in-law

Monday, July 4, 2011

My Salvadoran mother-in-law (the star, in part, of my memoir, Still Love in Strange Places) has been in town, nursing a leg that has borne the brunt of a brave life—an early operation, a terrible accident at Nora's coffee farm, repeated torques and falls.  Just two weeks ago, yet another cast was removed, leaving Nora commandeering a borrowed cane.  So that she is here, and we look for things to do that will not tax her further.

Yesterday we drove Nora to Immaculata University, where, in 1952, she spent a year studying with her Salvadoran girlfriends.  A dear nun let us in through a back door, showed us the elevator, and we were in—walking the halls that Nora once walked as an eighteen-year-old girl in a brand-new (and only briefly borrowed) country.  Horses brought the students the mail, we learned.  The girls smoked across the street.  A taxi ("very cheap, you know") would take them down country roads, to West Chester, where they would buy the "more delicious" food.

This afternoon, we've been sitting together watching WASTE LAND, the Academy Award Nominee for Best Feature Documentary, which can be instant-queued from Netflix.  I could hardly do a better job of succinctly describing the essence of this deeply moving, so ultimately humane film than the film's own web site, so I paste that description in here. 
Filmed over nearly three years, WASTE LAND follows renowned artist Vik Muniz as he journeys from his home base in Brooklyn to his native Brazil and the world's largest garbage dump, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. There he photographs an eclectic band of “catadores”—self-designated pickers of recyclable materials. Muniz’s initial objective was to “paint” the catadores with garbage. However, his collaboration with these inspiring characters as they recreate photographic images of themselves out of garbage reveals both the dignity and despair of the catadores as they begin to re-imagine their lives. Director Lucy Walker (DEVIL’S PLAYGROUND, BLINDSIGHT and COUNTDOWN TO ZERO) and co-directors João Jardim and Karen Harley have great access to the entire process and, in the end, offer stirring evidence of the transformative power of art and the alchemy of the human spirit.

Watch this movie straight through its closing credits, and you'll sit in silence afterward—reminded of the power of yearning over having, of making over done, of open hearts versus decided ones.  Sit with those you have come to love, and reflect on what finally matters.


Melissa Sarno said...

Your mother-in-law sounds like a fascinating person. I am left wanting to learn more about this coffee farm? I hope her leg heals soon and you all have a great visit together.
I have to see this film.

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