‘Ileana’s Smile’ finds trauma, tragedy,
and hope in Central America’s Largest Landfill
Love Light + Melody (https://www.lovelightandmelody.org/), founded by rocker Brad Corrigan of Dispatch in 2008, offers a unique window into life in the La Chureca trash dump in Managua, Nicaragua, following a remarkable young girl through the harsh realities of life on the margins in Ileana’s Smile. The film is directed and produced by Brad Corrigan.
Ileana’s Smile explores daily life within a trash dump community, diving into the family life of a single mother with four daughters making a living scavenging for recyclables and food in the burning piles of trash where they’ve made their home. Ileana, the second daughter, is full of life, laughter, mischief, and curiosity. Corrigan met Ileana in 2007, and in their first interaction, she pedals up to his taxi as he visits the dump, inviting the unsuspecting visitors out of their air-conditioned car into the heart of La Chureca. Her smile is infectious, and this small interaction ignites a heart-breaking journey and collision of culture, altering the fate of many.
Ileana’s Smile, an official selection of the 2023 Denver Film Festival, made its world premiere on Saturday, November 4, 2023.
Corrigan narrates his own journey, intersecting with Ileana’s, over several years as he is drawn deeper into the trash dump community. He charts the evolution of his understanding, relationships, and ultimately, his altruism in step with the tragic events unfolding around him in the toxic landscape of La Chureca. Once a bright light within the darkness of the dump, Ileana and her sister Mercedes fall prey to the many abuses that plague the community living within its 3 square-kilometer border, leading to their sudden deaths as teenagers. Corrigan and a host of others try to rescue Ileana from addiction but fail to change her course.
Described as ‘a light that went out too soon,’ Ileana inspired all who met her. Her fate led Corrigan to question his humanitarian efforts, the approach taken by organizations working in distressed communities, and even his role in this tragic story. Ultimately, he finds hope in the transformative power of education, and helps bring light to a community shrouded in darkness.
“When I first met Ileana, her family, and the community surrounding them, I tried to capture our interactions in my journals and on my camera because I couldn’t process what I saw. I also wanted to build a platform for Ileana to speak and share her own story. Although it has taken me almost 10 years to complete this project and she is gone, her smile and legacy are still with us. I am excited to share this story broadly and hope the film will draw attention to the challenges faced by vulnerable children around the globe and inspire others to help create a world where every child has the opportunity to flourish.”
Corrigan started Love Light + Melody to be a force for good—to offer an opportunity for these children to grow and thrive through education, music, art, and sports. Over the past 15 years, the organization has built a vast global community of supporters and partners who are helping to fund their work in Nicaragua, and beyond.
Ileana’s Smile is a Love Light + Melody film. Brad Corrigan is the director and producer. Executive producers are Barry & Melissa Clark, Pete & Devon Briger, Warren & Maureen Spitz, Chip & Becky Kenyon, Scott & Rachel McGuire, Jon + Katie Owsley, Michael & Sue Buzbee, Blakely & John Atherton, Drew & Amy McKnight, and Steve & Elisabeth Zahm.