Film Review: Landfill Harmonic

The world sends them garbage, they send back music, to paraphrase a line from this deeply inspiring doc about how trouble for a real-life river city was transformed into triumph.
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The largest landfill in Latin America is located in Cateura, Paraguay, a small village where some 2,500 impoverished families survive by picking through and reselling trash. Into their midst came a real-life Latino Harold Hill right out of The Music Man, Favio Chavez, who originally arrived to implement their efforts at recycling. Things changed when he met Nicolas "Cola" Gomez, a carpenter with the amazing skill of transforming junk into musical instruments, and his dream of teaching music to the children of Cateura became a reality. 

Chavez organized the youth into a literally ragtag orchestra, and their renditions of familiar standards from Beethoven and Mozart brought them some notoriety at first, when they performed locally, and then at a Rio world summit to which they were invited. YouTube clips brought them instant fame and the media of the world came knocking. Things escalated when Ada, a band member whose father was obsessed with the group Megadeth, contacted the rockers. Soon, the group’s Dave Ellefson came to visit, and this resulted in the newly dubbed Recycled Orchestra performing with Megadeth in arena shows, followed by a gig with Metallica. (Who knew metal bands were so sympatico with Mozart?)

Filmmakers Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley fully capture the deep heart and soul of this miraculous story and its protagonists, letting us get to know the marvelously motivated and modest Chavez, ingenious Gomez and various ingratiating band members, including the star-struck Ada, a plucky youth afflicted with deafness but saved by the music, and lovely Tania, who has to be both sister and mother to her many siblings. It truly is wondrous how terrifically these kids play and how their beyond-funky, Rube Goldberg-assembled instruments sound, and one is swept away once more by the overpowering potency of music and its ability to change lives.

Just as things seem to be on the uphill finally for these kids and their families, Mother Nature provides the film with a dramatic climax, when dreadful, torrential floods destroy their homes. But the indomitable, will, spirit and, yes, talent, of these staunch Paraguayans prove a real match for the deluge, sending you out of the theatre even more uplifted.

Click here for cast and crew information.