Death by design

Synopsis

In an investigation that spans the globe, award-winning filmmaker Sue Williams investigates the underbelly of the international electronics industry and reveals how even the tiniest devices have deadly environmental and health costs. Consumers love - and live on - their smartphones, tablets and laptops. A cascade of new devices pours endlessly into the market, promising even better communication, non-stop entertainment and instant information. The numbers are staggering. By 2020, four billion people will have a personal computer. Five billion will own a mobile phone. But this revolution has a dark side that the electronics industry doesn't want you to see.

Awards : - Award of Excellence, Special Mention: Documentary Feature, Impact DOCS Awards Honorable Mention, Environmental Award - Sheffield Doc/Fest Boston Globe Filmmakers Fund Award - GlobeDocs Documentary Film Festival Honorable Mentions: Best International Documentary, Best Environmental Documentary - Seattle International Film Festival Honorable Mention - Melbourne Documentary Film Festival Honorable Mention

Director's statement

Nearly 5 years ago, I met Ma Jun, China’s leading environmental activist. He told me about his work building a huge database of government pollution records. His goal was to create transparency and raise public awareness about Chinese factories that were ignoring the country's environmental regulations. The database contains the details of thousands of factory violations across the country. As Ma Jun poured through the entries what shocked him the most was the large number of electronics factories cited – as he said, we think of electronics as a clean industry - but here were thousands of factories working for the most famous brands in the world, discharging tons of toxic chemicals, heavy metals and waste directly into China’s rivers and lakes, land and air. Ma Jun is a quietly charismatic man and at first I thought I would make a film just about him and his work. But as I learned more about the electronics industry and its history, I realized the tragic environmental scandal he discovered is not confined to China.

Why we selected this film

A shocking investigation into a subject which is still little-known and yet concerns us all. This documentary shows us the real environmental and human cost of our electronic devices. In the USA and in China, this film reveals what happens behind the scenes in this industry and the effects in terms of pollution and public health, on both factory workers and local residents. Clearly proving manufacturers’ accountability, this film also presents existing solutions and possible alternatives, but questions brands’ drive to mitigate the consequences related to their production. As consumers, we are all responsible for our choices and this documentary helps us to make these choices in an informed manner.