Monday, 17 October 2011

Blood in the Mobile

Frank Poulsen's probing documentary firstly asks the viewer a question, 'Did you know that the minerals used in the manufacture of mobile phones, come through blood and conflict in war-torn Congo?'

Poulsen is an engaging director and person to follow on his escapades of visiting the Congo, meeting people who know where to find the mineral mines where the work is carried out.  Poulsen envisages see the mines being worked on by proud young men who are unwise to what they are doing the work for, nor the billions of profit companies like Nokia make on the back of their hard work. 

The horror of the conflict is only brought sharply into focus when Poulsen discovers that most of the work is being done by young under-age children in a form of 21st century slavery in mines that are dangerous governed with little or no health and safety regulations.  There is usually a death every day in the mines, but unlike in Western civilisation there is no investigation or closure of the mine, the work continues.  And this same work funds the military action in these countries like Congo suffering civil conflict, warfare benefits from this work also.

The most frightening scene is when Poulsen goes into the mine himself and you see the cramped surroundings and witness how many people are working in such an unsafe and confined environment, men and children are clambering over one another with all in the name of profit.  One worker takes exception to Poulsen's camera and attempts to start a fight in the darkness.  Poulsen swiftly turns off his camera.

The Congo is really the second act or major part of the film, bookended by Poulsen attempting to gain answers from Nokia executives in terms of an actual on the record interview or statement.  Poulsen admits he is a Nokia user in his native Denmark, and considers not using a mobile when there is significantly blood on his hands and the companies'. 

Yet the deeper Poulsen goes in the more apparent he becomes to the fact that Nokia like other companies are not likely to change their ways.  It is only a business, and the demand far outweighs the resentment and criticism of what is going on in the African countries.  Phone companies are attempting to educate consumers about where materials do come from, and yet this attempted transparency will probably fall on deaf ears. 

Poulsen acts the eternal optimist rather well as our guide on his journey, and it is this viewpoint of consideration that holds the documentary in good stead throughout - borrowing the same docu-DNA as Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield; politically astute and intellectually accurate in his questioning of executives, he avoids showboating like Moore and instead lets his images and interviewees do the talking for him to make the point.

In the conclusion though, Poulsen should be proud of the document he has directed in raising awareness of an issue that has flown way under the radar.  But unless the phone companies receive a huge public outcry it is unlikely they will change their sourcing of materials in the near future.

Whilst not as entertaining as other documentaries in recent years due to the serious subject matter and political statement, this is nevertheless a well-grounded article that will open your eyes to problems in the wider world.

Blood in the Mobile is released from Dogwoof Pictures on Friday 21st October at selected cinemas and is receiving a week long run at the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square

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