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Sometimes sport mirrors life, and that’s the case for a determined group of youth growing up in Rocinha, the largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. Disadvantaged in circumstances but not in spirit, some of the boys from the favela begin rock climbing with Americans Asa Firestone and Andrew Lenz. This film follows the spark and the struggle of climbing — up the granite walls that soar above the city and against the conditions of the favelas that have been constructed so rapidly that proper sanitation and infrastructure lag behind. Two boys in particular, Jonas and Patrick, expand their conception of the possible through their upward ambitions.
In 2009, filmmakers Alejandra Amarilla and Juliana Penaranda-Loftus set out to make a movie about the plight of impoverished children in Paraguay. They discovered a children’s orchestra in the slum of Cateura, located on a floodplain adjacent to the Asuncion city landfill.
The Recycled Orchestra was the creation of an idealistic environmental engineer, Favio Chavez, who arrived in Cateura to work at the landfill but soon diverted his energies to teaching music to the children of the families who survive by raking through trash for salvageable materials. Most amazingly, Chavez worked with one of the Cateura landfill workers, Nicholas “Cola” Gomez, to fashion serviceable musical instruments out of trash.
In the course of filming Landfill Harmonic, the filmmakers drew attention to the orchestra, which then became an international media sensation that was invited to perform in Brazil, North America and Europe. In effect, the filmmakers dramatically altered the trajectory of this real-life Cinderella story by reporting it.
Landfill Harmonic testifies to human ingenuity in the face of what should be insurmountable obstacles and the beauty that can emerge from the unlikeliest setting.