Film Review: Landfill Harmonic
Graham Townsley and Brad Allgood
The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, a group of young Paraguayan musicians who play instruments created out of items found in the garbage, made waves a few years ago when their story went viral across the world. The intriguing documentary Landfill Harmonic follows the group from its earliest beginnings, showing us how environmental technician and one-time choir director Favio Chavez got it in his mind to help the impoverished kids living in and around the Cateura landfill by teaching them the wonders of classical music. We’re introduced to the kids as well: children doing their best to live an ordinary life amid hopelessness and poverty.
It really is a remarkable story—whether you’re watching a dented oil can transform into a cello, or a discarded X-ray become the head of a makeshift drum, or a desperate young girl discover the joys of creating music. And as these kids become real musicians and emerge onto the world stage—even getting to play with their heroes, Megadeth (!)—the film takes on the qualities of an epic. But this isn’t simply a tale of overcoming one’s circumstances. To its credit, this documentary makes it clear that the Recycled Orchestra can only go so far—that the unspeakable poverty and the environmental devastation around the landfill go on. The story of these musicians is certainly inspirational, but the film ends in open-ended fashion, raising as many questions as it answers.