Smoky Mountain, the massive garbage dump in the north of Manila known as the largest slum in Asia, was forcibly dismantled by the government of the Philippines in November, 1995. Some of the people who had made their living as scavengers on Smoky Mountain moved to the setting of this film, the Payatas dump located in neighbouring Quezon City. Known as "the second Smoky Mountain," the area of the Payatas dump currently encompasses two garbage dumps, one large and one small, and is home to 3500 households.
Filming for this documentary started July 2, 2000. It started to rain the next day, and rained steadily for one week.
On July 10, there was a massive landslide in the large Payatas dump. 500 households--1000 people--are said to have perished in the dump's collapse.
Five days after the accident, the government of the Philippines closed the Payatas dump. All scavenging was stopped, depriving the people who lived in the dump of their livelihood.
The residents of the dump began a demonstration and a march on the capitol of the Philippines. Nora, a pregnant 27-year-old woman, said, "We want our dump opened again."
Nora, her husband Forcing (46) and their daughter Maricel (6) live in a house at the base of the smaller Payatas dump, which was unharmed in the collapse.
She tried to continue scavenging for garbage in the smaller dump, but the garbage had stopped coming in. With pickings almost nonexistent, dinner for her family soon became a small portion of rice with some salt.
One month after the accident, the site of the collapse caught on fire naturally. The entire village was blanketed by the putrid smell of bodies that had not yet been buried.
Twelve-year-old Nina's house was located half way between the two dumps. She, her parents and four siblings came to the dump two years ago from their home in the countryside. She said, "Now that the garbage doesn't come anymore, we don't earn any money, and life is really tough. I haven't eaten fish or meat in a while now." When her family ran out of food, they dug up potatoes that had grown on the slopes of the dump and ate them. She also planted potato leaves by their house. "If things were so bad that we had to rob and steal, it's better to starve," were her words.
Alex (5), the other main character in the film and an invalid with hydrocephalus, lived with his mother, father and two older sisters on the mountain of garbage. Like the other residents of the dump, Alex's family survived by receiving two cups of rice from a neighbouring house one day or a rare donation of food another day. "When we don't have any food I steal one of the galvanized iron sheets from the roof of a nearby house and sell it to feed my family." The words suddenly tumbled from Alex's father's mouth.
Soon it was time for Nora to deliver her baby. Early in the morning, her waters broke and it was time to go to the hospital. At 9 PM on August 7, Nora gave birth to a baby boy, but he was born prematurely. Six days after his birth saw the baby heaving blood and Nora praying to God. However, Nora's family's prayers went unheard, and her child left this earth for heaven.
Three months later, Nina's father left to work elsewhere, but was unable to find work and soon returned home. Nina also left to work at another garbage dump where her relatives lived.
On November 8, garbage started coming to the small garbage dump again. The dump's residents cheered its arrival.
This film is a portrait of these three strong, proud and resilient families (Nora's family, Nina's family and Alex's family) over the course of four months.
This film is about new life appearing in the midst of various problems, and about death. A documentary, it faithfully records the residents who retain their pride in a harsh environment and live dignified, strong lives.