Marína of the Zabbaleen - DVD movie review

Review by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Marína of the Zabbaleen is a cinematic documentary feature that premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival to all sold-out screenings and impressive audience engagement.

Director Engi Wassef, an alumna of the Tribeca All Access program, became the youngest female director ever with a feature in the festival.

The festival’s Artistic Director, Peter Scarlet, personally introduced Marína at several screenings and was quoted as calling it "one of my favorite films of the festival." Among its other accolades, the film won a Muhr Award at the 2008 Dubai International Film Festival.

In addition to the film’s engaging story and Marína's big dreams (she aspires to be a doctor), the film portrays the resourceful Zabbaleen, a Coptic Christian community of recyclers whose entrepreneurial waste management system produces the highest rate of recycling in the world. Their model has inspired systems in Los Angeles and other major cities worldwide.

It is believed by some, including myself, and even some experts in the field, that the Zabbaleen are, in fact Gypsy in origin, of the Romani or Domari (both related groups though some claim different), and therefore the film should also be of interest to some of the Romani-Gypsy community.

Some of the living conditions of the Zabbaleen are also mirrored in those of the Roma recyclers in the former Warsaw Pack countries, such as the former Yugoslavia and Romani, for instance.

The release of Marína is also timely. As reported in The New York Times, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere in May 2009, in reaction to the recent swine flu outbreak, the Egyptian government ordered the slaughter of all of the country’s pigs – the vast majority of which were raised by the Coptic Christian Zabbaleen and used integrally in the first phase of the recycling process.

For almost a century, the Zabbaleen had raised pigs to consume the thousands of tons of organic waste generated daily by Cairo’s residents. The ramifications of the pig cull are far-reaching, both devastating the livelihood of this minority community and imperiling Cairo’s entire system of waste management. Cairo is the largest producer of waste on the African continent.

Yet, the reasons for the pig cull are based at least as much in Egypt’s religious and political context, as on scientific reasoning. In fact the H1N1 Swine Flu came just like a gift from the g-ds to the Egyptian government and using the flu as a pretext they went and had the pigs of the Zabbaleen destroyed thereby all but wiping out their way of life and making a living and the most effective waste collection, recycling and garbage disposal service about.

The pigs, and no doubt even the Zabbaleen, have been a thorn in the flesh of the Egyptian government and the government of the city of Cairo for some time; the pigs because of the Muslim fundamentalists having a problem with them and the Zabbaleen and their garbage collection and recycling because of foreign money being able to come in if spent on “proper” waste collection, that is to say by multi-nationals who are already waiting in the wings.

The problem with the way those “proper” waste collection services work, however, and some of them are already operating in the Cairo areas, is that their garbage trucks compact everything thereby making recycling of the waste impossible.

The Zabbaleen provide a service to the city of Cairo, the country of Egypt and the Planet, as their way of waste recycling does not require holes in the ground for landfill operations. All recyclables are recycled and organic waste goes into the pigs; or at least it did until the recent government actions.

Torch Films, the producer of the DVD, will allocate 10% of gross retail sales revenues of the film to help the community survive its current dislocation and again reach sustainability. Their unique network of partners, which includes influential green organizations such as Net Impact, is collectively helping us in that effort.

With inspiration from the Zabbaleen’s thorough recycling system, distribution of the film will set the global standard for an environmentally and socially responsible independent motion picture release, serving as a benchmark for green film distribution.

Mindful that Marína comes from a family of paper sorters, the film's marketing campaign has been completely paperless, to date. Digital marketing and distribution processes are integral to the release. Theatrical distribution will utilize vanguard digital cinema technology, and innovative DVD distribution will reduce the carbon footprint of the process by more than 50%, on a per unit basis, from that of standard industry practice.

Torch Films is utilizing the greenest DVD technology available, the Flex DVD created by CD Digital Card, which uses 50% less polycarbonate plastic material than traditional DVDs, emits 50% less CO2 in manufacturing, and eliminates the necessity of non-biodegradable bonder.

Marína of the Zabbaleen is the first feature film to utilize this DVD technology. 100% soy-based inks will be used for all printing, and DVD packaging will be constructed from 95% recycled and 100% recyclable materials.

Torch Films is a global feature film financing, production, and distribution company founded in 2008, and is one of the few companies, and the only film company, selected for Mayor Bloomberg’s new entrepreneurship incubator initiative for New York City.

Marina of the Zabbaleen is a beautiful made documentary that could be, I hope, an inspiration so some of the Gypsy communities to rethink the way they operate in the waste management field and, with some additions, such operations could become the model for many around the world.

In my opinion, this is a film that should be seen by as may as possible in order to understand the way some waste is dealt with and it may also give some food for thought as to the way we produce waste, often needlessly.

© 2009