Garbage Dreams

The Zabaleen (Arabic for “garbage people”) recycle 80 percent of the trash they collect, but now multinational corporations threaten their livelihood.

Garbage dreams 01
Series
Independent Lens, Global Voices
Premiere Date
April 27, 2010
Length
60 minutes
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 International Documentary Association (IDA)-IDA / Humanitas Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Nashville Independent Film Festival-Al Gore Reel Current Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) -Best of Fest
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 South by Southwest Film Festival (SXSW)-Official Selection
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Bermuda International Film Festival -Best Documentary Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Lone Star Film Festival-Best Documentary Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Nevada Film Festival-Silver Screen Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Ojai International Film Festival -Human Spirit Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Connecticut Film Festival-Best Green Film Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Mexico International Film Festival-Golden Palm Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Montana Cine International Film Festival-Special Jury Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Hollywood Film Festival-Best Documentary Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Vail Film Festival-Best Documentary Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Landlocked Film Festival-Best Documentary Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Phoenix Film Festival-World Cinema Audience Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Phoenix Film Festival-World Cinema Best Director Award
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Woodstock Film Festival-Best Editing
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2009 Dubai International Film Festival-Special Jury Prize
  • Award laurels-r Created with Sketch.
    2011 American Library Association -Notable Videos for Adults Award
  • Iskander mai filmmaker bio
    Director

    Mai Iskander

    Mai Iskander is a producer, director and cinematographer based in New York. Garbage Dreams is Mai’s directorial debut. As a cinematographer, Mai has worked on TV shows for A&E, PBS, LOGO, and has filmed numerous dramatics (Roof Sex) and commercials. She has had the privilege of working with the legendary Albert Maysles on the documentary Profiles of a Peacemaker. Show more Mai recently returned from Chad, where she worked with Academy Award nominee Edet Belzberg on her documentary Watchers of the Sky. Mai started her career working as a camera assistant for the Academy Award Nominated cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek (Amadeus, Ragtime). As a camera assistant, Mai has worked on over a dozen features, such as Preacher’s Wife, Men in Black, and As Good as it Gets, and on more than a hundred commercials. She graduated from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in film production and a BA in economics. Show less

    Other ITVS Films
    Garbage Dreams Game

    We fund untold stories for public media.

    Learn more about funding opportunities with ITVS.

    The Film

    On the outskirts of Cairo lies the world’s largest garbage village. A labyrinth of narrow roadways camouflaged by trash, the village is home to 60,000 Zaballeen— Arabic for “garbage people.” Long before today’s “green” initiatives, the Zaballeen have survived by recycling Cairo’s waste. Members of Egypt’s minority Coptic Christian community, these entrepreneurial garbage workers recycle nearly all the trash they collect, maintaining what could be the world’s most efficient waste disposal system.

    Garbage Dreams follows three teenage boys born into the Zaballeen’s trash trade: 17-year-old Adham, 16-year-old Osama, and 18-year-old Nabil. Laila, a community activist, who also teaches the boys at their neighborhood Recycling School, guides Adham and Osama as they transition into adulthood at a time when the Zaballeen community is at a crossroads.

    With a population of 18 million, Cairo — the largest city in the Middle East and Africa — has no sanitation service. For generations, the city’s residents have paid the Zaballeen a minimal amount to collect and recycle their garbage. Each day, the Zaballeen collect more than 4,000 tons of garbage and bring it for processing in their village, where plastic granulators, cloth-grinders, and paper and cardboard compacters hum constantly. They recycle 80 percent of what they collect.

    In 2003, following the international trend to privatize services, Cairo sold multi-million-dollar contracts to three corporations to pick up the city’s garbage. Shimmering waste trucks now line the streets, but these multinational corporations are only contractually obligated to recycle 20 percent of what they collect, leaving the rest to rot in giant landfills. As foreign workers came in with waste trucks and begin carting garbage to nearby landfills, the Zaballeen watched their way of life disappearing.

    Topics