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4 — What are the realities of living with trash?

While Andy Mulligan’s novel Trash and the movie Slumdog Millionaire are works of fiction, both reflect the reality of living on a dumpsite. In this sequence the students will explore the realities of living with trash as they view a feature documentary, Waste Land. They will explore the ways that the author has combined different modes and media in creating the documentary and the impact that the author’s choices have on them as viewers and listeners; in this case the impact of bringing us closer to the lived experiences of the catadores in Brazil. The students will write individual short reviews about the documentary. ACELY1735, ACELY1736

This sequence addresses the Cross-Curriculum Priority: Sustainability and draws on the following General Capabilities: Literacy, Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking and Intercultural Understanding.

Landfill at a rubbish dump

Above: Landfill, image by Erika Boas

Reality check: Waste Land

There are groups of people in the world who make a living by sorting through waste. Brazil has one of the largest garbage dumps in the world, Jardim Gramacho, located on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. A group of individuals, who call themselves catadores, make a living sorting through garbage and picking out recyclable materials. This is the setting for the documentary feature film Waste Land.

Share the synopsis of the film Waste Land with the students and then watch the documentary preview before watching the documentary in its entirety. 

Note: The documentary film is a beautiful story and if access to the documentary is possible and time permits, a full viewing is recommended (99 mins duration). If the documentary is not available, encourage the students to conduct some research into different groups of people who make a living from trash. An alternative to viewing the documentary and completing a personal response could be to complete a short written report or present a verbal report about their research into living with trash.

Activity 1: My personal response to Waste Land

When Lucy Walker’s film Waste Land was first released, the documentary received glowing reviews that highlight how the documentary evoked strong emotion and changed people’s thinking. The power of the documentary lies in the lived experiences and stories of the key characters. Getting to know them as people brings us closer to their lived experiences.

Direct students to the list of reviews on the official site for the documentary. Encourage them to read through a selection of the short reviews and open up a wider discussion before directing students to the completion of a personal written response about the documentary. Discuss the transformative powers of art and the power of documentary storytelling and ask: How did this visual medium and format of story telling affect you?

Students then complete a personal response about Waste Land, including elements such as: