The Tabernas Desert is a unique landscape in the south of Spain. It is a dramatic setting, and when not blisteringly hot, it is easy to see how the magic of its rocky twists, raggedy outcrops and dusty nooks attract people from all over the world.
In the 1960s it began to be used as a location for Sergio Leone’s famous Spaghetti Western trilogy – A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Some of the film sets are still there, and there is a feeling of pride for the rich history that this area has in popular culture
Unfortunately, this pride does not always extend to the countryside itself. While cleaners polish the handrails of the town of Tabernas, the outskirts have been found to be littered with garbage.
The ramblas, the dry riverbeds that are used as roads and paths around the desert, have been popular places to fly-tip and dump everything from refrigerators to mattresses to building materials.
There are rusted old cans that appear to have been there for decades. There are glass bottles that have been warped by years in the sun.
According to locals, in the olden days it would have been limited to mostly organic matter, small amounts that would have decomposed. But it seems the old ways have not progressed and the area is being treated by many as a landfill.
Julian Phillips moved to Tabernas a few years ago. It wasn’t long before he noticed all the rubbish on his walks around the desert with his dogs.
Alarmed, he called the local authorities. They seemed oblivious to the issue, but initially responded by clearing a small section. But upon successive reports, Julian was met with silence. Tumbleweeds.
Phillips persisted but it soon became clear that he would have to take matters into his own hands. Literally.
He started rifling through piles of trash looking for clues as to who the dumpers were and found allies in town willing to help him with monthly clean-ups. The campaign has evolved to beach clean-ups and an educational presentation is now being taken to schools in the area.
Documentary films are increasingly being used as tools for education and inspiration. A Fistful of Rubbish will highlight the problem of litter and neglect of the desert, and show how communities can band together to take action.
Stylized in part as a classic Spaghetti Western, it will depict a simple story of a grassroots environmental campaign.
The Tabernas Desert is the perfect backdrop to tell a universal tale of good vs bad, the mythology of a hero who comes to a new place and destabilizes the status quo. A fight for the greater good.
Since filming began Julian and his team of volunteers have cleared about 52 tons of rubbish from the area. He formed an official non-profit organisation (P3 Ambiental) and applied for assistance from the government, but to date has received little support.
For a few of the clean-ups the mayor of Tabernas has assisted by providing containers, printing posters and cleaning resources.
But overall, the problem of litter in the area, is not being taken seriously. The signs are old and rusted. Nobody is getting caught and fined. There is no great sense of urgency in regards to environmental degradation.
This is what needs to change and there is a long way to go. The goal is to raise awareness, to encourage solutions, to shed light on a problem that lies deeper than the bottles and cans, broken televisions and mattresses that lie on the surface.
The goal is for people to care again, to remember and honour what nature provides for all beings on this planet. The problem of waste is evident the world over and bleak environmental stories are rampant.
The more people see the power of local activism, the more people can be encouraged to take part in being part of the solution.
Like all the great Westerns, it’s about survival.
To view the teaser of the documentary and for more information about the project and campaign, please click here.
David Regos is a documentary producer. The last environmental film he produced, Divide in Concord, premiered at Hot Docs in Toronto and won awards at film festivals around the world.
Image: Cinematographer Tyler Freeman Smith and Director David Regos. © Julian Phillips.