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“Landfill Harmonic” The Recycled Orchestra Of Paraguay

Landfill Harmonic – A Film About Inspiring Dreams One Note at a Time


A film teaser entitled "Landfill Harmonic" features 'The Recycled Orchestra', the creation of Favio Chavez, a landfill worker and musician. The film will feature Chavez and an inspiring group of children beating the odds in poverty stricken Cateura, Paraguay.

Landfill Harmonic is an upcoming feature length documentary about a remarkable musical orchestra where musicians play instruments made from trash.


The teaser:


The town of Cateura was built virtually on top of a landfill. Situated along the banks of the Paraguay River, the landfill receives over 1,500 more tons of solid waste each day. Poor management of the waste has caused critical pollution to the most important water source in the country and threatens the health of its residents.

There are seven different neighborhoods built around the landfill, accounting for over 2500 families living in close proximity to dangerous waste. Garbage collectors browse the trash for sellable goods, and children are often at risk of getting involved with drugs and gangs. Most of the families, including children, are employed by the landfill as recyclers. The poverty has forced children to work in the landfills, neglecting any education that might lead them to a better life.

When orchestra director Szaran and music teacher Fabio set up a music program for the kids of Cateura, they soon have more students than they have instruments. That changed when Szaran and Fabio were brought something they had never seen before: a violin made out of garbage. Today, there’s an entire orchestra of assembled instruments, now called The Recycled Orchestra.

Working beside the families for years Chávez eventually made friends and became acutely aware that the children needed something positive in their lives. He was inspired to do something to help. He began using the trash in the landfill to create instruments for the children. Chávez explains:

“One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments,” explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill. “But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few.”

The film, scheduled for release in 2014, shows how trash and recycled materials can be transformed into beautiful sounding musical instruments, but more importantly, it brings witness to the transformation of precious human beings. Directed by Graham Townsley, it features the children of Cateura making beautiful music with their recycled instruments. It is hoped that the film will raise awareness and prove that those living in poverty can in fact excel and contribute to society in a meaningful way.

Website: http://landfillharmonicmovie.wordpress.com/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/landfillharmonicmovie

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From Matador Network

An interview with Alejandra Nash (Founder and Executive Producer) and Juliana Penaranda-Loftus (Producer) about their experiences in Cateura, the making of the film and their hopes for the documentary. 

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Favio Chavez, Director of the Orchestra. Photos courtesy of Landfill Harmonic

Landfill Harmonic tells the story of “Los Reciclados” — “The Recycled Orchestra” — a youth orchestra in Cateura, Paraguay, whose instruments are made out of the very trash that the town is built on.

WHEN FAVIO CHAVEZ AND LUIS SZARAN came to Cateura to start a music school, they realized that they had more students than instruments. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Cola, a Cateurian garbage picker, an orchestra came together, now featuring violins, cellos, and other instruments artfully put together from trash. Los Reciclados de Cateura, now an independent orchestra, recently performed in Brazil and Colombia under Chavez’s direction.

I spoke, over email, with Founder and Executive Producer, Alejandra Nash, and Producer, Juliana Penaranda-Loftus, about their experiences in Cateura, the making of the film, and their hopes for the documentary.

Nina: How did this project come about? Did you visit Cateura and find the Landfill Orchestra, or did you know about them from the get-go?

Alejandra Nash: I was born in Asuncion, Paraguay. I dreamed of the opportunity to help my country in a creative way; a way of bringing awareness to issues that revolve around children and women in Paraguay, so the idea of a documentary became the first seed. I contacted Juliana, who I met through a friend, and knowing she is a producer we started our research. During that phase, I met with Luis Szaran, the director of a non profit organization that brings music schools to the poorest areas in Paraguay. Los Reciclados story instantly took my breath away. Since then we have gone to Cateura, Paraguay several times filming the children and Cola, who all live there. Cola is the luthier, the sweet and humble garbage picker who makes those wonderful instruments for the children. Favio Chavez is the director and heart of the orchestra. His love and commitment to these children is fascinating.

Juliana Penaranda-Loftus: We heard a story about an orchestra that was put together using recycled garbage in April of 2009, it was during our first research trip to Paraguay. In the summer 2010, Alejandra and I came back with director of photography and friend Tim Fabrizio. We arrived to do some initial filming in order to produce a trailer. During that trip, we met the first group of children who were part of the recycled Orchestra, those children are now playing with professional Orchestras. We have been following this story since then. We went back in 2011 and have gone twice in 2012. Now there is a new group of children that have joined the orchestra. We have witnessed the commitment that Favio Chavez (orchestra director) has towards these children of Cateura, their families and their community. There is a whole social process that happens behind running the orchestra. We have developed very strong ties with them during these years and this is a story that goes way beyond the screen.

The trailer looks great. Could you talk a bit about the structure of the film? Who did you follow? What are some of the stories you’re trying to tell?

AN: Thank you. We are following three of the children in the orchestra: Tania, Maria, and Ada. As well as Cola and Favio (director of the Orchestra).

JPL: Our story follows a music teacher (Favio) and his students as they pursue their dream of building their recycled orchestra. The story explores the town where the children are from, Cateura, a slum built
on the top of a landfill. The film also follows a local garbage picker, the instrument maker.

We are still under production so the story is still evolving and taking unexpected paths for our characters.

The entire crew has really impressive bios and histories of past projects. How did you all come together to work on this project?


AN: Juliana, through her contacts, was able to get the crew together. I am extremely happy about having such a wonderful group of people involved in this project. It came through as a result of everyone having the same reaction as I did when I first knew of this story: we fell in love with it.

JPL: We are working with wonderful professionals who really love and believe in the story as much as Alejandra and I do: Rodolfo Madero (Executive Producer), Jorge Maldonado (Co-producer), Graham
Townsley (Director) Jennifer Redfearn (Consulting producer), Tim Fabrizio and Neil Barrett (Directors of Photography) and Monica Barrios (Production Consultant).

Is there a nonprofit backing the funding for this?

AN: We get donations through our fiscal sponsor Creative Visions Foundation. Creative Visions is a non profit organization that supports projects that utilize media and the arts to create positive change in the world.

JPL: The production has funded the project so far. But we are in the process of approaching sponsors to secure additional funding which will allow us to complete the film. We still have a lot to film as the story is taking the orchestra members to unexpected places.

Do you have an estimate of when you expect the film to be finished?

JPL: We are still under production and expect to complete the film in 2013.

Cateura is built on a landfill. Where does all that garbage come from? Is it all from Paraguay? How did the city come to be built there?

AN: All the solid waste stream from Asuncion (the capital) and the metropolitan area goes to the Landfill in the outskirts of Cateura. People in the actual town of Cateura don’t have any dedicated place where they can throw their waste.

JPL: There used to be a big lagoon in the Cateura area. Over time, the lagoon was filled with garbage, debris and other materials that come from the city. Displaced people that were so poor they had no other
place to go started occupying and building the homes over the top of the waste. That’s why we can say that Cateura is literary build on the top of a former landfill.

Can you tell me a little about the conditions in Cateura, from your personal experiences?

AN: The hygiene and environmental issues are a real problem. Even thought they live by the landfill, the infrastructure of the place is so under-developed that they do not even have a garbage pickup or
any kind of trash system in place. So people throw their garbage around, some burn them, creating a polluted area filled with trash everywhere. Their water creek is completely polluted. We hope to bring some awareness on these issues as well, and assist in creating opportunities to support a plan that will tackle this issue.

What was working with the kids in Cateura like? Did they have any prior experience with film crews / American journalists?


AN: Working with the kids has been wonderful. They had no prior experience with international film crews and were very shy at first. They are very interested in learning about United States and curious
about it. It still takes them a little bit to warm up to us when we first arrive. But then they are happy and open, we have created a very good relationship with them throughout the years we have been following them even before we started filming. Juliana is from Colombia and I am from Paraguay so speaking their language is a big plus. The director, Graham Townsley, speaks perfect Spanish as well.

What do you hope the effect of this documentary will be?

AN: My hope is to inspire, educate, and motivate, as well as bring attention to the sanitary conditions in Cateura. Through this film I hope people will be motivated to be creative and resourceful. We also have plans for outreach programs to bring Los Reciclados to United States and get them exposed to musical and educational environments and opportunities.

JPL: Our job as filmmakers is to share this remarkable story of creativity, hope and endurance with the world. This story will inspire people of all levels and ages to look at an adverse situation in a creative way.

We also hope to bring awareness to major global themes of our time — poverty and garbage management.

Read more at http://matadornetwork.com/change/landfill-harmonic-a-story-of-creat... 

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From NBC News

'A way out of the landfill': Paraguay kids play Mozart with violins made from trash

Jorge Saenz / AP

Ana Meza, 16, plays a violin made of recycled materials during a practice session with "The Orchestra of Instruments Recycled From Cateura" on Dec. 11 outside Asuncion, Paraguay.

CATEURA, Paraguay -- The sounds of a classical guitar come from two big jelly cans. Used X-rays serve as the skins of a thumping drum set. A battered aluminum salad bowl and strings tuned with forks from what must have been an elegant table make a violin. Bottle caps work perfectly well as keys for a saxophone.

A chamber orchestra of 20 children uses these and other instruments fashioned out of recycled materials from a landfill where their parents eke out livings as trash-pickers, regularly performing the music of Beethoven and Mozart, Henry Mancini and the Beatles.

A concert they put on for The Associated Press also featured Frank Sinatra's "My Way" and some Paraguayan polkas.

Rocio Riveros, 15, said it took her a year to learn how to play her flute, which was made from tin cans. "Now I can't live without this orchestra," she said.

Word is spreading about these kids from Cateura, a vast landfill outside Paraguay's capital where some 25,000 families live alongside reeking garbage in abject poverty.

'We're doing the impossible'
The youngsters of "The Orchestra of Instruments Recycled From Cateura" performed in Brazil, Panama and Colombia this year, and hope to play at an exhibit opening next year in their honor at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, Ariz.

Jorge Saenz / AP

Young women carry their instruments along the edge of a polluted stream near a landfill outside Asuncion, Paraguay, on Dec. 11.

"We want to provide a way out of the landfill for these kids and their families. So we're doing the impossible so that they can travel outside Paraguay, to become renowned and admired," said Favio Chavez, a social worker and music teacher who started the orchestra.

The museum connection was made by a Paraguayan documentary filmmaker, Alejandra Amarilla Nash. She and film producer Juliana Penaranda-Loftus have followed the orchestra for years, joining Chavez in his social work while making their film "Landfill Harmonic" on a shoestring budget.

The documentary is far from complete. The kids still have much to prove. But last month, the filmmakers created a Facebook page and posted a short trailer on YouTube and Vimeo that has gone viral, quickly getting more than a million views altogether.

Making dreams a reality
The community of Cateura could not be more marginalized. But the music coming from garbage has some families believing in a different future for their children.

Jorge Saenz / AP

Nicolas Gomez makes a violin with recycled materials at his home in the Cateura, outside Paraguay's capital of Asuncion, on Dec. 11.


"Thanks to the orchestra, we were in Rio de Janeiro! We bathed in the sea, on the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. I never thought my dreams would become reality," said Tania Vera, a 15-year-old violinist who lives in a wooden shack by a contaminated stream.

Jorge Saenz / AP

A saxophone repaired with coins and keys by Tito Romero sits in his workshop at his home in Capiata, Paraguay, on Dec. 8.

Her mother has health problems, her father abandoned them, and her older sister left the orchestra after becoming pregnant. Tania, though, now wants to be a veterinarian, as well as a musician.

The orchestra was the brainchild of Chavez. The 37-year-old opened a tiny music school at the Cateura landfill five years ago, hoping to keep youngsters out of trouble. But he had just five instruments to share, and the kids often grew restless, irritating Chavez's boss.

So Chavez asked one of the trash-pickers, Nicolas Gomez, to make some instruments from recycled materials to keep the younger kids occupied.

Come April, the classical stringed instruments that Gomez has made in his workshop alongside his pigs and chickens will be on display in Phoenix alongside one of John Lennon's pianos and Eric Clapton's guitars.

"I only studied until the fifth grade because I had to go work breaking rocks in the quarries," said Gomez, 48. But "if you give me the precise instructions, tomorrow I'll make you a helicopter!"

A young musician tunes his cello, which was made from recycled materials, during a practice session.


The museum also will display wind instruments made by Tito Romero, who was repairing damaged trumpets in a shop outside Asuncion until Chavez came calling and asked him to turn galvanized pipe and other pieces of scavenged metal into flutes, clarinets and saxophones.

"It's slow work, demanding precision, but it's very gratifying," Romero said. "Chavez is turning these kids of Cateura into people with a lot of self-esteem, giving them a shield against the vices."

'A new meaning to my life'
Ada Rios, a 14-year-old first violinist, greeted the AP with sleepy eyes and a wide smile at her family's home on the banks of a sewage-filled creek that runs into the Paraguay River.

"The orchestra has given a new meaning to my life, because in Cateura, unfortunately, many young people don't have opportunities to study, because they have to work or they're addicted to alcohol and drugs," she said.

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 trailer.. the movie is  now screening in some festival

cant wait to see it

I saw this film 2 years ago and I confess that at some point I cried by emotion.

That is a fine, fine article Ted.   Thanks for posting.  I know that took a long time to put together.   Just awesome.

Those were great documentaries, very well done and inspiring. Thanx, Larry McCormick
That's incredible! They sound fantastic! Salute!

How much more inspirational can you get. I love everything about this. In a time with too much darkness in the world this provides a beautiful clear light.

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