Lucy Walker is frazzled, but, as a first-time Oscar-nominee for her documentary “Waste Land,” she’s allowed to be.
“I’m usually a little more focused,” she says, settling into a seat in a Venice Beach coffee shop this week in the midst of a constant stream of travel, interviews and hair and makeup. “My brain has gone to smithereens.”
With a British accent, wide-set eyes and artfully grungy hair, Walker actually appears more Hollywood than girtty documentary auteur. But the red carpet circuit is a world away from the one detailed in “Waste Land.” For the film, Walker followed Brooklyn-based, Brazilian-born artist Vik Muniz as he created art with trash-pickers at the world’s largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro. Her latest effort may have won her an Oscar nod, but her earlier projects — such as 2007’s “Blindsight,” which found her following blind Tibetan adolescents in their ascent of Mount Everest — have garnered praise from film festivals across the globe.
“I was acting [in England], and then I realized it was more fun helping other people act,” she explains. “I hadn’t given myself permission to be a director; it didn’t seem like something I could aim for as a woman.”
Only after landing a fellowship to study film at New York University’s graduate program did she allow herself to consider directing as a job. Upon landing in New York, she immediately fell into a creative crowd, including musician Moby, who lent his music to “Waste Land” free of charge, and Diane Von Furstenburg, who dressed her for Oscar weekend.
“I was in my twenties, and the Nineties were a really vibrant time in New York,” Walker says. “We were all living hand to mouth, throwing amazing parties in downtown Manhattan, and a friend said, ‘You’ve got some amazing records, why don’t you play them?’”
Thus began her DJ career, which she maintains was rewarding, but mainly served to fund her work as a filmmaker.
Walker estimates that the sale of the artwork chronicled in “Waste Land” has raised around 300,000 British pounds, or about $483,000 at current exchange, for the trash pickers’ association, Association of Collectors of the Metropolitan Landfill of Jardim Gramacho.
“I think it’s the best thing I’ve done as a human being,” she says. “We made a huge difference in the lives of these people.”
But when pressed on what drives her success and the many twists and turns in her professional life, she says simply, “I’ve just always followed what I love doing.”