NewsCovering Colorado


Ileana's Smile premieres at Denver Film Festival over the weekend

Denver musician-turned filmmaker tells the story of a little girl's smile in a Managua, Nicaragua trash dump that changed his life
Brad and Illeana's picture.jpg
Ileanas Smile poster QR.jpg
Posted at 6:03 PM, Nov 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-03 20:03:38-04

DENVER — The Denver Film Festival kicks off this weekend, and one documentary premiering is about an unlikely pair.

Musician-turned-filmmaker Brad Corrigan takes us on his journey to Managua, Nicaragua, where he finds happiness in the darkest of places and shows us how tragedy can spur a push for even bigger change.

As one of the founders of the band Dispatch, Corrigan would come across thousands of faces when he was traveling for shows.

“We’d play Boston New York Denver Boston New York Denver," Corrigan said.

Yet a single face and a single smile would change his life- at the Managua trash dump, no less.

“A little girl came up and knocked on the window as we were driving away,” Corrigan remembered.

That young girl was Ileana. She lived with her family in that trash dump.

“Waking up in the trash dump, going to sleep in the trash dump, and filling up these massive bags with recyclables that they then sell, to eke out an existence,” Corrigan described.

Yet in that place, living that life, that little girl wouldn’t stop.

“How could she be filled with light and laughter, living in this hell?” Corrigan wondered.

He would make more trips to Nicaragua to visit and help. That's when Corrigan founded the nonprofit Love, Light, Melody. 

“We formed it so that people could come down to Nicaragua, give, support, you know, in any way just for the sake of these kids," Corrigan said.

But even that new reality would be rocked by unexpected tragedy.

“I mean, sadly, all of the forces in the trash dump from sexual abuse to drug addiction, violence... Ileana and her sister Mercedes succumbed to a place that was not livable,” Corrigan said.

Ileana and her sister Mercedes passed away after contracting HIV. 

“It just gave me a completely different sense as to what could help them. I Just was like school, an amazing school,” Corrigan said.

He then helped build Ileana’s School of Hope- a primary school in Managua dedicated in her honor “where they’re safe in the morning, where they’re fed able to flourish and thrive,” Corrigan said. “Without education, there's really no way to break that cycle of poverty and create different paths forward for kids.”

Corrigan and his team then compiled their photos and videos over years to make a documentary that would tell Ileana’s story and inspire others to help more kids like her.

“We cover so much ground in an hour in this film, and I think there's beauty in every breath and there's tragedy in every breath,” Corrigan described.

Corrigan's documentary "Ileana’s Smile" is premiering at the Denver Film Fest Festival Saturday, November 4.

Ileana's Smile premieres at Denver Film Festival over the weekend