Skip to Content
Los Cartoneros, “The Cardboard People” cover image

Los Cartoneros, “The Cardboard People” 2006


Distributed by Third World Newsreel, 545 Eighth Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018; 212-947-9277
Produced by Mindful Media Collective
Directed by Michael McLean
DVD, color, 26 min.

Sr. High - Adult
Economics, Environmental Studies, Sociology, South American Studies, Urban Studies

Date Entered: 08/20/2009

Reviewed by Wendy Highby, University of Northern Colorado

The film documents the livelihood of los cartoneros, “the cardboard people,” who live on the socioeconomic edge of Argentinean society. These waste pickers survive by recycling cardboard and other materials. The cartoneros subculture burgeoned after the Argentinean economic crash in 2001. The filmmaker chiefly follows one worker, Juanchi (21, father of two) on his route in Buenos Aires neighborhoods. The style of the film is gritty and realistic; it was filmed in fall of 2005 with a mini-dv camcorder. This method is effective for the subject matter; the viewer, like the filmmaker, walks along with Juanchi as he methodically scavenges and fills his cart with recyclables. Michael McLean’s Los Cartoneros is an empathetic look at the daily life of an Argentinean waste picker.

The documentary is bookended with a few sentences of analysis tying IMF (International Monetary Fund) policies and globalization to the socioeconomic situation of the cartoneros; the classroom instructor making use of the film would need to provide further context. Los Cartoneros, “The Cardboard People” offers an unmediated, candid view of a subculture on the margins of the Argentinean economic system. The film supports curriculum in sociology, environmental studies, political science, and economics. It is a nice companion piece to the similarly-titled film by director Ernesto Livon-Grosman, Cartoneros (Documentary Educational Resources, 2007). Livon-Grosman’s lengthier film provides historical background, is mediated by academic opinions, and covers community efforts to organize the cartoneros.