By now you’ve surely heard about the Recycled Orchestra from Paraguay—it’s been featured on a number of TV and radio programs around the world, including “60 Minutes.” But you may not have seen the documentary film about it with the clever play on words as title, The Landfill Harmonic. If not, see it as soon as you can! I finally purchased and watched it and, in a word, was overwhelmed by the quality of the film and its message of hope. Released in 2015, it has been featured at more than 140 film festivals and won over 30 awards.
The youngsters in the orchestra live in Cateura, Paraguay, a community built on the municipal dump of Asunción, where gancheros (workers with hooks) tear apart the sacks of garbage arriving hourly by the truckload in hopes of finding something to sell. An idealistic young music teacher, Favio Chávez, wants to start an orchestra there but realizes no one can afford instruments, so he approaches don Colá, a uniquely creative ganchero who begins making instruments out of trash.
The film follows the orchestra through its trials and tribulations after its story goes viral. The members develop some astonishing musical collaborations, travel the world—watching them enjoy the beauty of Rio de Janeiro and then return to the squalor of their neighborhood will test even the hardest of hearts—and eventually go on to teach younger kids. As the blurb on the website says, “The film is a testimony to the transformative power of music and the resilience of the human spirit.”
Indeed it is. Music changed these young people’s lives; watching their story just might change yours.