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Garbage Dreams -- Film Review

5:36 PM PDT 10/14/2010 by Frank Scheck, AP

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Shortlisted for this year's feature-documentary Oscar race, Mai Iskander's "Garbage Dreams," now playing an exclusive engagement at IFC Center in New York, is poised to benefit from the current passion for going green. This portrait of the Zaballeen, the "garbage people" who for years have handled the mountains of trash produced by the city of Cairo, is an evocative examination of the clash between tradition and modernism in the handling of an age-old problem.

For decades, Cairo has no had organized sanitation service, relying instead on the Zaballeen, who garner their income not from the city but rather from recycling. Based in a nearby village, they have a "green" record that modern societies can only envy, reportedly recycling about 80% of the garbage they collect.

Iskander, who also produced and photographed, concentrates on three teenagers who represent their breed. A colorful and photogenic lot, they are Adham, who specializes in mining soda cans for their valuable aluminum; Nabil, who dreams of having a wife and family; and Osama, the prankster of the group.

The film's central conflict concerns Cairo's decision to hire foreign multinational corporations to handle their ever-growing sanitation issues. Suddenly, the Zaballeen see their way of life threatened, though Osama, for one, decides to go to work for one of the interloping companies because of the economic security it provides.

The most interesting segment concerns a sponsored trip to Wales undertaken by Adham and Nabil to study modern recycling practices. The latter is unimpressed, sniffing that the waste centers boast plenty of technology "but no precision."

Championed by Oscar winner Al Gore (did you ever think you'd read that phrase?) and the spur for a million-dollar donation by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, "Garbage" could ride its sociological importance to Oscar recognition.

Venue: Palm Springs International Film Festival
Production: Wynne Films
Director-producer-cinematographer: Mai Iskander
Executive producer: Tiffany Schauer
Editors: Kate Hirson, Jessica Reynolds
Music: Raz Mesinai
No rating, 79 minutes