Their Instruments May Be Made of Trash, But This Paraguayan Kids Orchestra is a Treasure

Read more

A documentary ready-made to get you smiling and celebrating the power of the human spirit, Landfill Harmonic is an introduction to the world of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura. A musical group composed of Paraguayan children who live next to one of South America’s biggest landfills, the Recycled Orchestra is unlike any other in the world. The instruments they play, for one, are made from garbage from the landfill. You have to see — and hear — it to believe it.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because the teaser trailer for Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley’s documentary went viral a few years ago, making the orchestra a worldwide sensation. The finished film shows audiences how the orchestra came together, how they navigated the thrill of touring around the world, and later coped with a natural disaster that struck Cateura, putting the livelihood of those in the orchestra in jeopardy.

Landfill Harmonic is not only is it a testament to the ingenuity of the people from Cateura but truly a project that reminds you of the nurturing power of art. You don’t want to miss this doc, which, among other things, functions as an exploration of Cateura and its people. Here are 5 things we learned from this heartwarming film.

Be sure to catch Landfill Harmonic as part of FICG in LA on Saturday, October 8th at 2:30 pm at TCL Chinese Theatres.


Roughly 1,5000 Tons Of Garbage Produced By Asunción Ends Up At Cateura

Located six miles south of the Paraguayan capital, Cateura is home to the municipal landfill where most of the garbage from the city ends up. Many of the people who live in Cateura earn money by scavenging through the landfill. These are the gancheros, so-called because of the need for the hooks (ganchos) which they use to sift through the landfill.


X-Rays Make For Great Drum Materials

When Favio Chávez first began teaching music in Cateura (offering classes for free!), he realized very quickly that he had more students than instruments. Despite helpful donations, he set out to find another way of supplying his class with violins, drums, and guitars. Enter Colá. A ganchero at Cateura and a former carpenter, Colá worked tirelessly to recreate musical instruments with things he found in the landfill. After much trial and error, he created the pieces that now make up the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura. Among his clever inventions: a drum made with X-Rays as lining, a violin that uses a fork, and a bass made up of an old oil can.


The Viral Trailer Changed the Course of the Film

In November 2012, the filmmaking team working on Landfill Harmonic put up a teaser video of their production on YouTube. The clip, which introduced the world to the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, quickly went viral. It was discussed in morning talk shows and news outlets around the country. The Orchestra even ended up landing coverage by 60 Minutes: “We decided to take you to Cateura tonight,” the host said, “not because of the poverty or the filth, but because of the incredible imagination and ingenuity of the people who live there.” As of this date, that first video has been watched over 3.2 million times. As the filmmaking team told us, they can’t stress enough how much that video changed the film: “We never believed or predicted the teaser would go viral the way it happened. At the time we released the teaser, we found the kids that would become our film’s main characters. We followed them and the orchestra as they catapulted into the world of big shows and performing venues and saw them grow so fast before our eyes.” Oh, and among other things, it helped the orchestra land a Latin American tour alongside none other than Metallica.


There's Nothing Stronger Than A Sense Of Community

In 2014, the Cateura community dealt with the biggest environmental catastrophe yet: constant rains caused unprecedented flooding. The Cateura settlements, where many of the orchestra members live with their family, were wholly submerged, with debris and garbage from the landfill floating around. It was devastating. As the Landfill Harmonic team shared with Remezcla, they’d already editing the film when they realized that they owed it to the kids to deal with the impact of the flood. It forced the community to band together to help each other out, finding new lodging and help rebuild once the worst of the flooding was over. More than anything else in the film, it shows the resilience of the people of Cateura as well as the economic inequality the kids in the orchestra are trying to overcome. A measure of the success of the orchestra? Esteban, who plays the drums in the film is now studying hotel management while Tania, who you can see playing the violin, is now in her first year of veterinary school.


Music Is Basic Human Need

This is, of course, at the heart of the film. As Favio says in the film, “Culture is a basic human need.” He truly believes, and the orchestra kids show us, that music can change lives. What he and the Cateura community show us is that even when the odds are against you, you can’t deny yourself hope. As puts it, “no tener nada no es excusa para no hacer nada”: having nothing is no excuse to do nothing. It’s a message that can also be best summed up by the title of the TED Talk Favio and the orchestra did in Amsterdam: “The World Sends Us Garbage, We Send Back Music.” As Ada, one of the violinists in the film, put it, music is the greatest vice (“el mejor vicio”).