When: Through Thursday, Jan. 13
Where: The Belcourt
The power of art to transform lives isn’t a lofty platitude in Lucy Walker’s absorbing documentary, which addresses the undying “trash or art?” question with a refreshingly literal-minded answer. For Vik Muniz, trash is art: Guided by social conscience, the Brazilian-born, Brooklyn-based artist-photographer undertakes a series of portraits of the garbage pickers who scavenge recyclables from the world’s largest landfill, Rio de Janeiro’s monstrous Jardim Gramacho. The portraits will be painstakingly produced on a massive scale using the landfill’s waste as a medium, with the subjects in many cases helping to immortalize themselves in stuff everyone else has thrown away.
To Walker’s (and Muniz’s) credit, however, his subjects become the movie’s true focus, and the doc becomes less the story of a well-intentioned rescuer bestowing gifts than of hard-hit people who start to see themselves for the first time outside a frame of day-to-day survival. It’s a strong start to The Belcourt’s “Artist Portraits” series, encompassing nine documentaries on subjects as diverse as Motorhead’s grizzled frontman Lemmy, monologist Spalding Gray, pianist Glenn Gould, William S. Burroughs, the late photographer Francesca Woodman, and Mark Hogencamp, the man who responded to a vicious beating by creating a minutely detailed 1/6-scale World War II town in his backyard.