International musician directs documentary portraying desperate poverty

todayNovember 6, 2023 3

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Denver Film Festival is 10-days of screening more than 180 films. Among them will premiere a powerful new documentary that chronicles the desperation of poor families in Nicaragua, and it’s director is as shocking as it’s content.



As a founding member of the indie/roots band Dispatch, Brad Corrigan has toured the country and travelled the world. He has written and performed songs for thousands of fans.

“I’ve always wanted music to not only tell a story, but also to be like the building bricks in something that’s going to change lives,” Corrigan told CBS News Colorado.

In 2007, Corrigan went to Nicaragua with a church music group.

“It was a three day trip, we was an orphanage, I went to a youth rally, then the taxi driver said, ‘There are kids that need you more somewhere else, can I show you,'” he recalled.

The taxi driver drove Corrigan to a massive trash dump in Managua.

“The trash dump is 110 acres of chaos, filth, on fire,” he explained. “Just imagine the absolute worst toxic environment and about 250 families who have moved into the trash dump to salvage for recyclables in the trash field. My reaction to the trash dump was, windows up, locks down, get into the center, completely overwhelmed. I took a couple pictures, that’s all I could handle, it was too much. And then this little girl knocks on the window, and is laughing and smiling , and her light unfroze us.”


Brad Corrigan

That “little” girl was 14-year-old Ileana.

“Her joy and laughter made it possible for us to step out and follow her through this living hell,” Corrigan said.

Corrigan returned to the trash dump month after month, year after year. He brought help and supplies.

“Our intent was never to make a documentary. Our intent was just to  take pictures and shoot film footage inside the trash dump because the vast majority of us had never seen or heard of anything like it,” he said. “Looking back, it was very much about me. This cannot possibly be. I have to fix it. I have to repair it. I have to solve it, and then I blundered and stumbled, I didn’t even speak Spanish at the time.”

Over the years, he learned the language and kept documenting the lives of Ileana, her sisters, and their single mother.

“A lot of horrific forces in the trash dump and the kids who were not safe often had their live cut short because of it. Ileana passed away in February 2011. Her sister passed away in 2009. We thought, what do we do now?” Corrigan said.

They produced “Ileana’s Smile”, a documentary premiering at the Denver Film Festival.

“Our intent was for the film to be about Ileana, but she passed away.  I carry a lot of her story and we show as much of her story, while she was alive, as possible, but at the same time, my life has been transformed by walking with her and her family and families who live in the trash dump,” Corrigan told CBS News Colorado.

Corrigan’s work there has not ended. He helped found “Love, Light and Melody”, a nonprofit organization to serve those kids.  A school was built in Ileana’s memory, it’s called Ileana’s School of Hope.

“We either belong to each other and can treat each other as family, or we can watch these tragic stories and not step in. I really believe there is something profound, hopefully, in all those things coming together in this project,” Corrigan said.

LINK: Denver Film Festival

“Ileana’s Smile” premiered Saturday, November 4, 2023, at the Holiday Theater. 

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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