Max Carlson / US/India / 2011 / 87 mins
Despite numerous safety procedures, industrial disasters due to natural causes are inevitable, unavoidable and blameless (Fukushima). However, the catastrophes resulting from human error and negligence continue to cause controversy long after the event. Max Carlson’s stirring documentary charts the preventable and devastating aftermath of the 1984 Union Carbide (UC) gas leak in Bhopal, India.
Interspersing interviews, animation, stock footage and freshly filmed material, Carlson blends revelations of a fraction of families’ continual suffering, with a pitted history of the events, the political discourse it produced and the ensuing legal campaign. He introduces doctors (D.K. Satpathy), campaigners (Satinath Sarangi), survivors (Sanjay Verma) and many more who continue to toil against the hypocrisy of the American conglomerate.
Distressing images of children crying out in pain (revealing only a fraction of the suffering endured by thousands of impoverished Bhopalians) evoke both empathy and anger. But although the film contains an overwhelming amount of statistics, the most startling of which is the estimated 200,000 casualties (1984–present), the spirit of those interviewed is inspiringly energetic and uplifting. Verma, who lost both parents and many siblings, is rarely seen not smiling. It’s this positive energy, present in many participants, that transforms into a fierce determination to acquire fair compensation, the legalities of which may and have been debated (UC states deniability).
But the moral and ethical liabilities are undeniable. Underneath the traumatically emotive history lies a David and Goliath battle against UC (now owned by Dow Chemical), which once again pits individuals against corporations. Not only was capitalism the cause of the disaster (profit driven spending cuts on safety regulations) but, through some questionable legal loopholes, it also protects the perpetrators. Unfortunately, this incident isn’t unique; exploitation and deaths of non-Americans to quench corporate thirst are not uncommon. So while a victory over UC would signify a landmark precedent in overcoming American companies in foreign territories, breaking the current attitude of refutation will need an awfully big sling-shot.
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