Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dream Bigger

Garbage Dreams

Release: 07.31.09
Rated UR
1 hour, 29 minutes


On the edge of Cairo lies the neighborhood of Mokattam. The 60,000 people that live here are known as Zaballeen, or "garbage people," because they earn a living by recycling 80% of the garbage they collect from the city. That is, until Cairo contracted foreign companies for garbage disposal. For four years, Garbage Dreams follows three teen boys, Adham, Osama, and Nabil, as they look to their future while their people's livelihood is usurped.

The Zaballeen heft sacks of garbage three to five times their size along the streets of Cairo, hoisting them into carts and trucks to haul to Mokattam. Upon first glance, Mokattam seems little more than a trash pile, but closer inspection reveals an entire society organized around recycling. Bottles, cans, paper and food waste are separated into large piles and processed by the Zaballeen. All of this is done by them with only minimal payment from the people of Cairo.

Respect, family and communal pride runs deep within the three boys. The charismatic though unfocused Osama wishes only to attain respect from his family and friends. Nabil is ready to have his own family, but the lack of work worries him. Adham supports his family while his father is incarcerated, but he has industrious visions for the Zaballeen's future.

The plight of these three boys is compelling; you can't help but sympathize over the adversity they face. However, Garbage Dreams focuses only on one element of the issue. To inspire audiences to action, the entire problem needs to be explained. Being the internationally uninformed American I am, I know little of the cultural, political and religious issues that may exist between the people of Cairo and the Zaballeen. For example, the Zaballeen are mostly Coptic Christian, a religious minority in predominantly Muslim Egypt. The Zaballeen are poor farmers who moved from the rural south to the outskirts of the city to find new work. As much as we'd all like to buy the world a Coke, how much did these prejudices play into the decision of Cairo and its citizens to privatize service?

Knowing more about the attitudes of the Cairo government, its people, and the foreign trash companies toward the Zaballeen may have helped to build even larger support for the Zaballeen and their future as recyclers. With that perspective lacking, I found myself wondering why I was looking at yet another random scene of a stray dog scrounging through piles of trash.

Despite providing only a singular context, Garbage Dreams achieves its goal; to raise awareness of the Zaballeen and their predicament. Osama, Adham, and Nabil still hold to their recycling dreams by the film's end, but you'll leave wondering what the reality of their future will hold.

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