Poisoning Paradise (United States, 1 hr 17 min)

Directed by: Keely Shaye Brosnan; Teresa Tico

Journey to the seemingly idyllic world of Native Hawaiians, whose communities are surrounded by experimental test sites for genetically engineered seed corn and pesticides sprayed upwind of their homes, schools, hospitals, and shorelines. Discover what’s at stake for Hawaii from local activists, scientific experts and healthcare professionals as they expose the effects of environmental injustice on a local population. Join the international debate about pesticides that is raging around the world, as well as the people’s movement to hold corporations and governments accountable for poisoning planet Earth.

Review:

Hawaii is renowned as a natural paradise with stunning landscapes, luaus, pristine beaches, and tanned surfers. It is also a place where, according to a local mother, “nebulizers are being handed out like candy to children.” This stark juxtaposition is the thematic core of Keely Shaye Smith’s documentary, Poisoning Paradise, a heavy hitting exposé on a little known environmental and humanitarian crisis taking place in Hawaii, and on the implications this crisis has throughout the world.

While based in Hawaii, the film serves as an exploration of the world’s modern food production and the giant biotech/agrochemical corporations that dominate it. With the human population projected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, so must our technology to feed it. This vital innovation is mainly left in the hands of the people who currently make most of the world’s food, giant corporations such as Monsanto, DOW, and Syngenta. While at points difficult to follow, the information presented by the film is as dense as it is eye opening. In its brief initial overview of the Hawaii’s economic history, it illustrates the events leading to these biotech and agrochemical companies establishing a significant hold on the island state. Through a series of interviews with medical doctors, scientists, and local residents, the film reveals a myriad of complex and alarming issues raised by the presence of these chemical companies in their ecosystems and communities.

“My son is not a lab rat,” states a mother from the Hawaiian island of Kauai during her interview. Her son, like many other children in their community, has suffered from the drift of dozens of chemical tests conducted almost every day over the many agrochemical company fields on the island. Over the past several decades, Kauai has become one of the most toxic agricultural environments in all of America. The testing disproportionately affects Native communities and children living near these agricultural sites, suffering from elevated rates of cancer, asthma, birth defects, and developmental disorders. In addition to direct fallout, the chemicals sprayed on the testing fields infiltrate Hawaii’s water sources and delicate ecosystem; a sure and steady poisoning of paradise.

Along with illustrating these disturbing conditions, the film documents a compelling play by play account of the battle that raged behind Kauai County Bill 2491, through which the Hawaiian people fought against toxic living conditions, corporate and political corruption, and systematic coverup by the biotech industry. While this bill and community are based Hawaii, this struggle against agrochemical companies is worldwide. While we look to these corporations to innovate more effective means of producing the world’s food, their motivations are not necessarily based in being ecologically sustainable. As scientific advisor, Dr. Vandana Shiva puts it in her interview, “Why would a pesticide industry reduce pesticide sales? They designed these crops to sell more chemicals.”

While it is impossible to motivate every viewer into action (as hard as the film may try), everyone who watches Poisoning Paradise will at the very least be left questioning the origins of the food that they eat, and the nature of the corporations that produce it. The most important question being: are they interested in feeding the world, or feeding their bottom line?

-P.F.