Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Landfill Harmonic (TFF 2015) - Documentary Review

Landfill Harmonic, an official selection of the Tacoma Film Festival, was created by directors Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley. This documentary feature tells the story of the "Recycled Orchastra", a group of kids from a small town in Paraguay who learn to play music using instruments literally built from landfill scraps.

Mr. Favio Chávez had originally set out to manage a recycling program at a nearby landfill but, after finding this to be an impossible task, he turned his focus to providing free music lessons to students in the small town of Cateura. Word quickly spread about this rare opportunity and, as more and more children signed up for his class, the need for instruments became greater than what he could provide. With a minimal budget to work with, Favio turned to Nicolas "Cola" Gomez, a man who he met working at the landfill who literally invents the art of creating musical instruments from recycled materials. From these humble beginnings something magical happened and what started as a small group of students learning the fundamentals of music, slowly evolved into a symphony orchestra that would inspire the world.

Millions of people have at least caught a glimpse of this orchestra either on the internet or on any number of talk shows around the world and some have been lucky enough to see them in person but this documentary is the first time we get to see the full story of Mr. Favio Chávez and his merry band of recycled music makers. Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley do a fantastic job of not only showing us how the orchestra started, but also the trials and hardships involved with living in a community built around a landfill. There are many messages to this story and the creative team deftly and honestly touches on each of them making this documentary both a tale of inspiration and a commentary on the state of the world we live in.

What is really interesting about how this documentary is told is how the focus from the very beginning is on how important family is in helping to provide an environment where the children can learn and grow. We see a single mom doing everything she can to raise her family and an older couple struggling to maintain a basic standard of living under the harshest of conditions. basic services like health care and quality foods are considered luxuries and something as simple as a violin can be seen as a dangerous commodity because its value equals that of the average house in a place like Cateura. It's really amazing to see the kids shine under these circumstances and you get the idea that they could conquer the world simply because they don't understand the meaning of the world impossible and that is where the true inspiration of this story comes from.

I hope everyone has an opportunity to see this beautifully filmed documentary as we could all learn a lesson or two from Favio and his students. Landfill Harmonic is the type of film that should be shown in classrooms as a way for kids to see that, no matter where you come from, practicing hard every day and working together for a common goal can achieve some amazing results.

"Our goal is to show that culture is a basic human need. That music can change our lives and even when we live in the most unfavorable conditions, we must never stop dreaming. To have nothing is not an excuse for doing nothing." - Favio Chávez


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