Lucy Walker is a film-maker on a mission: to tell stories that “resonate beyond” their subject and “reveal larger forces, and larger truths” at work. She wants “to have a good effect in the world with my short time in it”. She has two new films— “Countdown to Zero”, a chilling look at nuclear proliferation, and “Waste Land”, a powerful study of a Brazilian artist, Vik Muniz, as he returns home after years in New York to make giant portraits of rubbish pickers in Rio, using their materials. "Waste Land" was just nominated for an Academy Award yesterday.
Walker was born in London, educated at Oxford and trained at film school in New York. She made her name with “Devil’s Playground” (2002) and “Blindsight” (2006), both documentaries about people striving to transcend their circumstances. That theme continues in “Waste Land”, which has already won 18 awards. It gets under two very different skins: Muniz, with his artistic vision, and the rubbish pickers, with their gritty subculture. Walker feels that the camaraderie between the two—“the human factor"—is the key element, though the gulf between them seems to widen rather than narrow when Muniz gives the proceeds from his portraits to the pickers (Walker is following suit with the prize-money). Isn’t there a danger of being patronising? “There’s always a danger of being patronising,” Walker says. So she tries to “meet people as people and listen to them. When you meet people and walk a mile in their shoes, how could you not be seeing their point of view?”
With one new film tackling the “nice illusion” that rubbish just vanishes, and the other urging the destruction of all nuclear weapons, what impact does Walker hope for? “World peace,” she answers with a wry smile. Maybe not; but she does make big issues gripping.
~ JOE PARHAM