Aug 292017
CULTUREASIAN FILM Film lays bare ‘toxic’ impact of our dependence on tech gadgets A new documentary from American filmmaker Sue Williams, Death by Design, holds up a mirror to modern consumers, exposing the environmental and health costs of our reliance on devices that have depressingly short lifespans “I could have made it (the film) about plastic bottles or blue jeans, but I wanted to take something that everybody feels really attached to.” Williams tells Asia Times. “I think it’s a powerful way to make people think about how they consume.” A screenshot of the Death by Design website homepage. Photo: Ambrica Productions Documentaries about the environment and technology are not new. But Williams’ 73-minute production takes things up a notch, tying up multi-faceted concerns with its focus on indispensable gadgets in our modern lives such as smartphones and computers. The project started off as a profile of Ma Jun, a Chinese environmentalist and one of the main characters in the film. He has done groundbreaking work on electronics companies’ environmental violations in China. “I actually never even thought about [electronics being unclean],” says Williams, who after some research and trips to Silicon Valley and China realized the subject lent itself to much more than a story about one person or community. “It became very clear that as I learnt more about it that [Ma] is one valuable part of a very big global problem.” Referring to the industrial transfer from the US to China that began in the late 1970s and 80s, William says: “It’s very important to know what the industry knew before they went to China.” The film first takes us inside US factories back in the 1980s. A former IBM employee who worked on a US semiconductor production line at the time, while pregnant, later gave birth to a brain-damaged son. She had not been informed about the toxicity of the materials with which she worked every day. IBM workers in purportedly ‘protective’ clothing. Photo: Ambrica Productions Workers were provided with protective clothing, but “that was to protect the products, not the people”, says the woman in the film. The film uncovers an internal IBM database that shows extremely high incidence of cancer among retirees. From there, Williams’ lens shifts to the Taiwanese manufacturer, and Apple’s biggest supplier, Foxconn, whose workers have also suffered health problems. Low-paid Chinese workers on a production line. Photo: Ambrica Productions/ Death by Design’s Facebook page In 2010, (more…)