Posts Tagged ‘Garbage Dreams’

Zabaleen, the movie

Friday, July 20, 2012

A new documentary on the trash picking  Zabaleen community of Cairo may peak the horizon. REORIENT, an online magazine featuring Middle Eastern arts and culture,  this week profiles director and cinematographer Justin Kramer on the two-and-a-half year process of shooting Zabaleen.

photo via REORIENT

Kramer tells the reporter:

I had to spend a lot of time with these families before they trusted me enough. They’re very marginalised. What they do is sort of taboo, and they were reluctant to open up to an American guy who barely speaks the same language’

A moving and naturally-paced excerpt of the film entitled “Mourad’s Morning” can be viewed on VIMEO, which includes the following description:

Mourad’s mornings are all the same. He wakes up at 2am. Then, he fights to get his sons out of bed for an hour before leaving late for his garbage route in Shoubra.

This piece was submitted and accepted into Werner Herzog’s Rogue Film School in London March 2011.

Sounds very promising.

A now-completed Kickstarter campaign includes a brief video message from Kramer and cites the blog The Zabaleen Project as the documentary’s website. It appears to be an interesting compilation of Zabaleen news, including an automated filter for the latest #zabaleen tweets.

Here’s hoping the final product makes the rounds on the film festival circuit and makes its way to screenings we can all attend. In the meantime,  to bone up on Zabaleen issues, check out:

  •’s review of the documentary Garbage Dreams,
  • my Q & A with that film’s director,
  • the sad incident a few years ago when the government killed all the Zabaleen’s pigs,
  • NPR’s coverage of the Zabaleen solar cities, and
  • an update on the Garbage Dream boys via an exclusive  interview with an correspondent.

See Garbage Dreams @ IFC

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Heads up NYC: Garbage Dreams is playing at the IFC Center this week.

Director Mai Iskander will appear in person at the 6:30pm shows of GARBAGE DREAMS nightly Wednesday, January 6 – Sunday, January 10.

Trashies make the Oscar shortlist

Friday, November 27, 2009

In case you haven’t heard, Mai Iskander‘s film Garbage Dreams (about the Zabaleen people of Egypt and the challenges facing their trash picking community in this modern age) made the Oscar shortlist for documentaries. It is one of 15 films being considered for the honor. Among the 14 other films selected is The Beaches of Agnes by the legendary Agnès Varda who immortalized gleaners in her groundbreaking 2000 film Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse. That’s not one but two kick ass, trashy, female documentarians recognized in a single year. Not bad. Of course, since Varda’s current doc is about herself and not trash, per se, our allegiance lies with Iskander and the Zabaleen. Toes and fingers crossed…

Million dollar trashies

Thursday, November 5, 2009 sends a warm congratulations to The Spirit of Youth Association—an association of Zaballeen from the Caireen shantytown of Manchiet Nasser—who recently received a $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The grant was announced following a screening of the documentary Garbage Dreams (which we’ve touted here on more than one occasion) at the International Sustainability Conference in Cairo. The Spirit of Youth Association is the nonprofit that runs the recycling school featured in Garbage Dreams.

Iskander, Nabil, Osama & Adham

Mai Iskander, Nabil, Osama & Adham of "Garbage Dreams"

Special Kudos to filmmaker Mai Iskander for harnessing the power of journalism to raise awareness around the Zaballeen and informal trash picking communities in general and to Adham, Nabil, Osama and their teacher, Laila, for lending their life stories to the cause. More to come on this evolving story.

Cairo without pigs

Friday, September 25, 2009

As you probably read in last week’s Sunday Times, the Egyptian government may now regret having killed all the pigs in Cairo in a misguided effort to prevent the spread of  Swine Flu. With no pigs to feed, the Zabaleen have no reason to go door to door collecting food scraps anymore, which means more trash ends up in the streets.

Garbage Dreams poster

Garbage Dreams poster

Filmmaker Mai Iskander emailed me after the piece ran to remind me that her documentary Garbage Dreams about three young men growing up in Cairo’s trash picking community touches on one of the core issues of the day: source separation.

It’s an interesting lens to put to the developed world. What distinguishes modern countries from those struggling to “catch up” isn’t just the fact that we have high-tech recycling facilities, it’s that we are more or less willing to sort our trash in our own homes.

The Zabaleen hope that by encouraging their neighbors to pre-sort trash, they can hang on to a piece of the profits from the waste industry before foreign waste hauling companies eclipse the need for local trash pickers. And it looks like their campaign is finally getting some buy-in from local authorities.

Sadly, there no longer seems to be much call to sort out food waste as well. Let’s hope the increased trash in the streets at the very least serves as a political tool encouraging Egyptians to think about what happens to trash after it leaves the home and what they might do to reduce waste and recycle more.

Trashtastic Tuesday with Mai Iskander

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Trashtastic Tuesdays return to today after a bit of a hiatus. Filmmaker Mai Iskander was kind enough to answer our questions about her powerful film, Garbage Dreams. Those of you in LA, take note,  the film is playing at the Arclight from August 14-20th with Iskander in attendance the first three nights.

Mai Iskander

Mai Iskander photo via

everydaytrash: How long did this project take you and how did you identify your main subjects?

Iskander: Garbage Dreams is a labor of love that took four years to make. By 2005, I had been working in the film business as a cinematographer for five years and decided to take the winter off and spend it in Cairo. I returned to the garbage village and started volunteering at the local neighborhood school, The Recycling School. The teachers and students really impressed me. Despite their difficult and impoverished life, they were extremely proud in their way of life and their history – and they should be.

The Zaballeen have created the world’s most effective resource recovery system, recycling 80 percent of everything they collect. They are actually saving our Earth. From out of the trash, they lifted themselves out of poverty and have a solution to the world’s most pressing crisis.

Unfortunately, in 2003, never having recognized these strikingly high recycling rates and following globalization trends, Cairo decided to hire three foreign waste companies to clean up its overpopulated mega-city of 18 million people. This Zaballeen community of 60,000 was slowly losing its livelihood.

Of course, as a filmmaker, I quickly saw potential for a story, but it was the teenagers who really drew me in. In addition to the fact that their way of life and community was in jeopardy, these kids were also facing typical teenage concerns: fashion, pop music and their workout routine, and their aspirations to be the coolest and most popular.
More after the jump

Go see Garbage Dreams

Monday, August 3, 2009

CORRECTION: In the original post, I incorrectly assumed the Laila in the film was Laila Iskandar Kamel, the award-winning advocate, because I had heard about this famous Laila who worked with the Zabaleen. As it turns out, there are two Laila’s dedicated to this valient cause. This Leila apologizes for the error.

It’s been a trash-packed weekend, kids. After an amazing afternoon at the University of Trash on Saturday, I headed down to the IFC Center today for a noon screening of Garbage Dreams, Egyptian filmmaker Mai Iskander‘s documentary about three young men growing up Zabaleen in Cairo.  New Yorkers, take note, it’s playing through Thursday as part of DocuWeeks 2009. And if you’re in LA, there’s a docuequivalent.  Here’s the trailer for those who missed it the first time we posted it.

The story follows teenagers Adham, Nabil and Osama as well as  Laila, a social worker who runs The Recycling School, a place where young community members learn about everything from safe recycling practices to how to negotiate a fair contract with local residents to collect their trash. I won’t give away the whole plot, but a lot of the conflict centers around the fact that after 100 years of depending on the Zabaleen, the city of Cairo signs contracts with foreign waste hauling companies who threaten the trash pickers’ way of life. It’s an emotionally pulling conflict. My natural instinct is to root for the Zabaleen to win out and remain the city’s trash collection system, but it’s hard to feel good about all that comes along with that profession…life in a garbage slum, generation after generation working harder for less money, dangerous contact with sharp and toxic materials…

You never hear from the Egyptian government in this film. Or from the foreign waste companies. And I was never quite sure who was buying the plastic and metal recycled by the Zabaleen. The film left me curious about many things—not the least of which is the source of the often repeated stat that Cairo recycles 80% of its waste thanks to the Zabaleen. After watching the film, I believe it, but would like to know how it was calculated. Overall, though, the film accomplishes its main objective: to put a human face on a group of invisible people. Check it out and let me know what you think.

P.S. My favorite part is when two of the boys visit Wales to observe recycling in a developed country as part of some government program or something and one says to the other: “Dude, did you see that? That car just slowed down to let someone cross the street!” Spoken like a true Caireen.

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