Filmmaker Statements


I was born in Asuncion, Paraguay. My father was Paraguayan and his side of my family is there. I get to see them when I visit.

The reason in making a documentary about Paraguay was to create awareness. The story of the orchestra inspired and touched me deeply. It is the kind of story that connects with every one of us. As a Paraguayan I was trying to capture the reality of our culture and ways. We were also sensitive to the situation of the characters in the film and felt we didn’t need to dwell in certain aspects of their lives. We wanted to focus on their transformation and their growth, which occurred as we were filming.

In this film process, I learned that documentary filmmaking is another kind of “animal” compared to a scripted film. I learned a whole new level of patience and resilience. When things became challenging we kept reminding ourselves about the great story we had found, and to keep trusting how it would unfold. We were lucky enough to have a passionate and talented crew who stood by it and went through the uphills with us.

People in Paraguay have an incredible strength and their resilience should be an example to us all.  The community of Cateura has demonstrated that even though they are living in very challenging conditions they can also be resourceful and innovative. They found a way to transcend their circumstances. Their example has given me strength when I needed it most. At first, I believed I was helping them by making this film–which I hope is the case. Instead, I feel they have given me something bigger that kept me going and inspired me through personal challenges.

I would like to see continued new opportunities to be given to children in Paraguay. Bringing music as a way to transformation in areas like Cateura is a big start to turn on the desire for more education and growth. The idea is to end the cycle of poverty through education. The parents of the orchestra members are also changing. They now see the importance of the arts and music, something that had no previous value to them. They were simply focused on surviving day to day. Now they see another perspective. They see their children can also aspire for more and achieve greater goals.



For a documentary filmmaker, it’s not often that a story comes along that captivates, inspires, entertains and educates all at once – and the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura does all of that. Never has a film project affected me as much as Landfill Harmonic, and the experience has reshaped my views of Latin American society as well as the possibilities that exist for all communities, no matter how impoverished. The film is a modern-day fairy tale that teaches important lessons of ingenuity, hard work, perseverance and the importance of dreaming.

Built in the shadow of a massive landfill, the community of Cateura survives off of selling recyclable materials collected from the trash. There are no formal services, and educational opportunities are extremely limited. Without the necessary tools to improve their quality of life, most children in Cateura are caught in the vicious cycle of poverty – often referred to as a “poverty trap” – where social and economic idiosyncrasies self-perpetuate a fatalistic worldview. Most children cease to dream of a better future for themselves and their families. But something special happened in Cateura that is a rarity in our modern world. Visionary music teacher Favio Chávez, humble trash picker-turned-luthier Nicolas “Colá” Gómez, and a group of dedicated kids joined forces to create a project intended to change the cultural tendencies of the community – and in that spirit, the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura was born. What started as a simple idea to provide music education to children in Cateura is now the cultural centerpiece of the community and a source of inspiration for many around the world. The Recycled Orchestra is a concrete example of how one simple idea can transform lives and provide an opportunity to transcend one’s situation in life.

As documentary subjects, Favio and the orchestra members were dignified and honest, and they confided their dreams and fears openly. Even when their community was in the midst of tragedy, they allowed us into their homes and trusted us with their emotions during their most vulnerable moments.

The experience of meeting the kids and families of Cateura while making this film taught me to be more appreciative of the opportunities that I’ve had over the course of my life, and they will forever remain a source of inspiration and encouragement for me. I can only hope that audiences who see this film will be moved in some small way and carry that same spark of inspiration with them. Like Favio says in the closing scene of the film, “To have nothing is not an excuse to do nothing.” May we all take that lesson to heart and use the resources at our disposal to make the world a better place for future generations.



This film was a collaborative process from beginning to end and a pleasure throughout.   It went on for the best part of six years, guided always by Executive Producer Alejandra Amarilla and Producer & Co-Director Juliana Penaranda-Loftus. I came on board after the first shoots had already happened. I think that all of us who worked on it were just so inspired by the orchestra and shared a simple, common goal:  in as straightforward and direct a way as possible to tell the story of this amazing project, of the children who made up the orchestra, of the Asuncion slum from which it sprang and of the man who was the inspiration behind all of it, Favio Chavez.

This was, of course, much easier said than done.  The themes here are big ones and managing them not easy: how great beauty can emerge from the bleakest poverty, how music can transform lives and how, as Favio says so eloquently at the end of the film, culture is a basic human need.  The challenge was to tell the story without romanticizing poverty and without preaching, to somehow give the children and Favio their own voice and let their deep humanity speak.

There was also the dilemma of which episodes to focus on. Once the short promo about the orchestra went viral on the Internet both we, as filmmakers, and the orchestra were showered with possibilities.   One of my favorite sequences, which I am so pleased we opted for, was the Megadeth story; so unlikely, so incongruous in a way but so beautiful and which in a simple and direct a way shows so beautifully perhaps the central theme of the film: just how universal is the language of music.