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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  November 5, 2010 1:00pm-1:30pm PST

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tavis: good evening. first up tonight, a conversation about one of this year's early contenders in the oscar race, for the document, "wasteland." it tells the story of a landfill in brazil and it is about poverty. it won the award at the sundance film festival. and hip-hop k'naan stops by after fleeing his war torn homeland, he began a new life in north america. this year, his international hit raven's flag became one of the signature songs at the world cup in south africa. lucy walker and rap star, k'naan, coming up right now.
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♪ tavis: lukey -- lucy walker's latest project is called "wasteland." it took the award at sundance
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film festival. here now, scenes from "wasteland." ♪ >> hello. >> [unintelligible] [speaking foreign language] >> oscar buzz on this already, which begs the obvious question, why a film about garbage?
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>> well, it wasn't just me, it was an amazing artist. we cooked it up together. we were both obsessed with garbage. i was at n.y.u. and i was taken on a visit to a landfill, just out of curiosity, a friend of mine was teaching a class in garbage. i was so curious, i went along. i had two real sayings, the first was no matter how green and environmental i thought i was being before, when you stand in the landfill and you realize that everything you ever threw away, it doesn't vanish, it goes intl place and there i was standing on it. i was embarrassed i never thought that through before, that everything i used hung about, embarrassingly. the second thing, my goodness it would be a cool location for a movie because it just looked cool, the plastic bags and mounds of garbage and -- pipes with the gaps poking up and very well churs everywhere. it was a really crazy place.
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i thought as a filmmaker, cool, why doesn't anyone come here. it is a powerful idea with the garbage and the waste. i think we're all sort of confronting waste and excess in consumer society and making choices these days. it is an interesting time to think about it. >> let's talk about the particulars. as i mentioned, this is the world's largest landfill. tell me about the site. >> it is in brazil, it takes 20% of rio's garbage. what is amazing. there's an artist and i and we went on an amazing journey. he had an idea, can art transform people's lives. i thought that was interesting and wanted to film the whole journey of him making a project, but vick -- and the film team, they thought that people working on the garbage dump picking through, i -- by hand would be scary end of the line people. so vick before he goes, said, i think it is where maybe everything that is not good goes, including the people.
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we get there and the amazing surprise is, the people are the coolest people that i ever met. he doesn't just recycle paper. he picks the books up and wipes them off and gives them to people to read. there's another person, that takes ute tinsels from the bar gadge and takes the hot gas as a flame to cook these big meals for everybody right there in the garbage. there's yao the leader, he organizes everyone into an association and is fighting for sewage and daycare and skills training and gets an association which at the beginning nobody is taking him seriously. by the end everyone is voting the next president of brazil. everyone is amazingly charming, gorgeous, well tresed. the women have these incredible styles with the billing earrings and short shorts and the bright colored day glo tights. it is cool, the spirit and
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courage and dignity are outrageous. we're grateful to meet these people and realize what they have -- he have had to deal with in their lives, escaping domestic violence. just -- just, you know, they sort of handled the worst that life can throw at you and they have just shown. they're -- you can't believe how funny and chrming and gorgeous they are. they just light up the whole movie. the movie is a phenomena and people are falling in love with the people and the movie. it has beenee a dream come true to work on the movie. >> how about these persons find themselves working in the landful in the first place? >> well, practicesal is a tough place if you not got a lot of money. when i think about how cool they are, i think -- that these are the people who chose not to be prostitutes and drug trafficers and beg or steal. they have chosen this job that is actually doing a very important environmental sub--
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stewardship role, and doing this dirty job for the rest of us. they pick through the landfill and take out 200 tons of recyclables a day. when i think about the u.s. for example, i think we could be recycling 90% but we only recycle 30%. think about that. we create a third of the world's waste. these people are more efficient than that. they're doing a cool job but it is -- it is dirty and smelly and they're os extra sized by other people. they chose this job because they needed a decent living. and -- it pays decently. it is -- it is -- >> they get paid by home. >> it is like a stock exchange. it is crazy. you learn about this. they take out plastics and paper and selling it to wholesalers who then turn those materials into plastics and the p.v.c. or others, and they sell it and it gets ground down and molded into
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buckets. it is a commodity, like a stock exchange and the prices go up and down if paper and different kinds offer plastic. -- aluminum and all of these different resources that they're saving from the landfill and really recycling back into the world for reusing. >> as they move around. move among the trash, how is that they keep from illness and disease and -- and the like? >> when i went there -- what is most good about the disease, and i had every vaccination ever invented. my hands were so sore i couldn't move them. i was so scared when i went there. then when i realized, when i got this, it was actually that it was less the diseases but more the sort of physical injury, because you could see in the movie, these amazing giant trucks tilt up and the garbage flies down and everybody dives in ticking -- picking out the thing they're skaff vadging that day. they'll pick papers or plastics. they tend to pick the lighter plastics because they're easier to carry and big and tarps.
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a lot of people have terrible scars and accidents. the trucks have run them over -- not seen them or even -- even have tilted over because it is unstable ground on top of the giant garbage heap. it is very dangerous. >> i'm in this run -- i had this running conversation, i won't say argument but a conversation with a friend of mine been on the show who had a documentary done about him a year or so ago. bill withers. he said to me years ago, we been going back and forth about this for years. he made a statement one day over lunch, he believes there's dignity in all work. that's bill's form hation. there's dignity in all work. i'm not sure after -- after debating him on this that i agree with that there's dignity in all work. is there dignity in this work? sao -- >> these are the poster people for dignity. there's an old man that passed away during the movie. he was the yoda of the landfill.
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he has rhyme that is keep each other going. he says 99 is not 100. by which every single can we recycle and every thing we do and every person that we are, that watch the movie, that show up and doing is better than they ko, otherwise, makes all the difference. every time i try to though something away, or -- or i think about you know, can i make a difference -- i sort of think, yes. and i hear his voice in misses michigan head saying 99 is not 100. when i think about dignity, you can't imagine anyone that personifies that more than him. he worked in the landfill all of his life and he's proud of what he achieved. it is a joy to behold. it is uplifting movie, about sounds awful about garbage, there there -- but there are characters and twists and turns and tears and laughter. everyone cries. i don't know anyone that doesn't cry. it is joyful and uplifting. >> to your point now, every documentarian has a reason for
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doing the project. you gave that earlier in the conversation. but what do you want to take away from there? you want us to revel in the humanity of the people? you want us to understand more about what we're doing to the environment? give me a sense of what you want the take away to be for us. >> if the hypothesis of the the movie is can art traps form lives? the answer is yes. they make beautiful giant portraits, he makes beautiful pictures but through this journey that everyone goes on, you get to know the people. partly watching the artist and being afraid and fwar away and looking at google and youtube and imagine what the people are like. you go in this journey with him as he gets to know them and falls in love with them, they become best friends and they do an art project. you could see exactly how their lives get transformed. we film the process. it is a cool story about the life -- about life and twists and turns. he was from the exact same
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social background. he got shot in the leg and got money because he got shot by a rich guy if a fight. he gave him money and he got a plane ticket to the u.s. and then fulfilled his dream to be a successful artist, whereas the people in the landfill had less good luck. their parents had died and they suffered horrible accidents and that their lives took them to the garbage dump. one woman lost her son and had a hard time surviving that. you see how it is possible to heal and grow and bounce back from really difficult -- difficult stuff. i feel like we have all felt in our lives that we sort of come through the garbage dump of our lives and recycled in our spirit. it is can we recycle people? the spirit that shines through from the people is just a joy to behold. it winds up being, we're valuing ourselves not as garbage but because of art. you find the drink ets and treasures and we see how you could shine in the most difficult of circumstances. but there's -- this cool stuff
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happens and laughter and tears. you get to know practicesal and the brazilians. it is a cool look. never a lecture. you wind up being tuned in. it is not a documentary that is a lecture about this and that. it really -- it is a really wonderful journey with amazing, amazing people that you never seen before i think in a -- a movie -- people so charming. i defy you to find people this charming. >> not to jinx it. but we're good here after doing this show for seven or eight years at picking what we think may win an academy. i don't think we missed yet. we had everybody on here who wins. there's buzz, it is called "wasteland." thank you for your -- congratulations on your success. >> up next, k'naan. stay with us. >>
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tavis: k'naan was born in somalia who was able to flee his home and start a new life in harlem and tosh toe. he wept on to a very successful career in music, including this year's hit, waving flag. if you warched any cup, you have not heard the song about the cup campaign from the -- here's the video for the hit single, waving flag. >> i came this far. ♪ ♪ ♪ survival ♪ learn from the streets ♪ ♪ it can be bleak ♪ ♪ accept no retreat ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ we wonder when we will be free ♪ ♪ that fateful day ♪ ♪ not far away ♪ for now we say ♪ ♪ when i get older i'll be stronger ♪ ♪ ♪
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>> fascinating story about how this song became a hit on the world stage, thanks to the world cup. we'll get to that in a second. let me start by asking, the inspiration behind the song. it is about what? waving flag? >> hard to say, nobody know what is a song is about. it just -- but i know that it comes from -- from you know, the journey from -- from darkness to heights. from destitute to hope -- destitute to hope. i think that's the senment that created the song. can't quite say what it is about. >> the song comes out originally in 2008. in 2010, it gets repackaged. coca-cola picks it up, makes it the centerpiece, the epi center of their world cup campaign. how did that happen? >> i was on tour when i received the phone call from my manager
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who said, this is what -- coke is looking for. they looking for a -- some piece of music that would represent -- that would represent their biggest marketing campaign in their history. they are -- they like you -- they like your spirit and -- your music and -- so have he heard my music? >> my music isn't really like -- glossy pop songs. it turns out that they were actually looking at a lot of other artists as well. everyone was sending songs that they felt were right, you know in that campaign. i sent -- i sent a stubborn song about with freedom and about -- hope and -- despair and -- you know these things. so i think -- i sent it in and i think people were -- were overtaken by the emotion of the
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song, the emotional pull. they said that was where they wanted to go. so we created a -- a friendlier version of the song. that's what ended up becoming the world cup campaign. >> take me in the studio. a friendlier version means what exactly? >> it means, sort of like -- creating a tempo difference, change in tempo. this one, in the tempo it is in now, it is melancholy tempo. you -- you know, it is hard to be very happy in the tempo, very dancey and -- we created coined of a -- an enormous amount of drums -- we recorded one day playing with a couple of my friends. and you -- the tempo goes up -- sun some of the -- i kept the chorus the way it was. i feel that's the essence of the
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song, when i get older, i'll be stronger, they'll call me freedom. that i never wanted to lose that. then you lose the song. but i wanted to create more even more melodic parts in the verses. so we did. that's where -- give me freedom, give me fire, give me reason, take me higher comes from. >> i felt the difference between the two versions is one begins in darkness. eventually gets to height. one begins in height. >> so what happens when you have a song that a major international brand like coca-cola connects to, coke brands and puts it out there. i assume the music goes and goes around the world as a result of that. >> the song went to number one in 19 countries around the world. it went to number one song in
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the billboard 100 in europe and over -- over gaga and all of that, which is regarding r remarkable for a song that is essentially about an african child coming out of somalia. >> you mentioned your fwrends and made me think about you and your friends in somalia in that field on the particular day when you had an encounter with the police force. take it back to that field and tell me what happened that day and why you think that when your friends were killed, you're still here. i describingaled with that for a long time. i think that -- you want to have a purposeful life. you want to -- you want to -- to justify your existence, as a human being. you don't want to be someone taking up space. but it is hard to do that -- when -- the space has been so vividly fought for, when -- when
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next to you there were other people who were just as special as you thought you were who -- who could have done amazing things in life. they didn't make it and i did. so -- it took me a long time to -- to actually even accept it. they call is survival guilt or something. i call it life in somalia. we all have to deal with that in some ways, we all have lost family and friends and i just happen to lose some of the closest ones in the same day and -- you know -- i feel grateful and fortunate for my life and for -- for all i'm trying to do with it. but still creeps in my head sometimes. >> do you recall what happened that day or you deliberately have tried to put it out of your mind? >> it is -- it is not so much that i deliberately try to put it out of my mind, but with
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issues of extreme violence, what happens is life gives you -- i don't know what it is. your -- your spirit or your imagination gives you -- some kind of protective layer over -- over things that you have been close to -- close to that are very difficult. i know i was there and someone turned and -- a machine gun towards me and a couple of my friends playing in -- in a courtyard area and they were, they were -- we were all shot at and they were shot near me -- i just made it out of the thing. i don't know why it didn't hit me. i think whenever -- i have -- i've been in a circumstance like that, it is not the only time i've been in those kinds of situations. but whenever i been chose to something explosive like that, something in my memory in fact makes it like -- gives it a color of -- a cinematic color, almost a distance from -- from
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the reality. it helps to kind of protect you i think. >> how then did you and your family escape the country? how did you get to harlem and toronto out of the fields of some malcra? >> we were in -- we were in -- we were there during the -- the -- the first explosions of the war and -- my mother was, it is thanks to her. she had this sort of unexplainable audacity about her. she would say, i want to get my kids on the. we lived in a very tough neighborhood. even from -- from their standards. people wouldn't come in the area. they say you're from this neighborhood. you have what we. why do you think you're -- your kids are so special that you're going to save them and everyone else is going to die here? she used to walk through a fire
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fight during the war around our neighborhood to get to the american embassy and try to get visa. she would be denied day after day. i think she made an effort over a year to keep going there and we would always just kind of pray and think that maybe she won't return. then one day she returned with a visa to america. it was -- it was one of the -- one of the most amazing days of my life seeing her return with that. i think it was also because they were packing out the embassy was ordered out. they felt like i can't get fired now. >> how -- had you through all of this -- did -- did music have -- has music become your outlet? your expression? >> i've always been musical, though i tried to avoid that. i thought it would be a cliche because my family are made up of
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a lot of -- som maia's elite music created poets and so on. if i were a musician, that would be -- but -- it -- it -- it kind of just -- just found me in -- in a very rough time. i was -- maybe 16 and i got -- i got diagnosed with what scald post-traumatic stress disorder. and i -- i -- my mother was in -- was not a big fan of the concept of sedation and western medication where i would just numb my problems and she said to me, you know, these are issues of -- of the memory and the spirit. these are things that you i know are carefulable of sorting out. i went -- i went to words and melodies then and started writing the first songs of -- of mine in the english language
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which later on became an album that found some success. >> that's an understatement, some success. whole hot of success these days. we should be fortunate to sit and write our troubles out on paper and have them become songs, the -- that coca-cola falls in love with and makes the number one hit in countries all across the country i should say, it is a great story, wonderful ar -- artist. >> big fan. >> thanks. that's our show for tonight, until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at >> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with hughie lewis and his contributions to the record label. >> all i know his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james.
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