Garbage Dreams

Film phase:Completed


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.” The Zaballeen have survived for centuries 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.

Filmed over four years, 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 the boys as they transition into adulthood at a time when the Zaballeen community is at a crossroads.



Garbage Dreams is directed by Mai Iskander.

Mai Iskander looking straight ahead and smiling. She has dark, shoulder-length hair, and is wearing a V-cut top and a necklace. Black and white portrait.Mai Iskander is a producer, director, and cinematographer based in New York. As a cinematographer, she has worked on TV shows for A&E, PBS, and LOGO, and she has filmed numerous dramas and commercials. She worked with the legendary Albert Maysles on the documentary Profile of a Peacemaker, and recently returned from Chad, where she worked with Academy Award®-nominee Edet Belzberg on the documentary Watchers of the Sky.

Iskander started her career working as a camera assistant for the Academy Award®-nominated cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek (Amadeus, Ragtime). As a camera assistant, she has worked on more than a dozen features, such as Preacher’s Wife, Men in Black, As Good As It Gets, and over 100 commercials. She graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in film production and a BA in economics.