‘Circle of Poison’: DOC NYC Review

If it’s criminal here, why not everywhere?

Whatever their opinions of its merits or efficacy, Americans know that our regulatory system has over the decades decided some chemicals are too hazardous to be legal. But most probably have no idea that this doesn’t keep American factories from making vast quantities of these chemicals, then shipping them to less-regulated parts of the globe, where they have all the horrific effects lawmakers warned of here. Shannon Post and Evan Mascagni sound the alarm in Circle of Poison, an eye-opening and ire-raising doc that follows pesticides around the world to see the damage they do. The sober but not gloomy film is less grabby than many eco-docs, limiting theatrical potential, but it could make some hay on small screens and provides much ammo for those critical of corporations’ effect on American governance.

In an ambitious debut, the filmmakers travel all over to see communities where disease and deformity have skyrocketed with the increased use of pesticides such as endosulfan. We see a 38 year-old Indian woman who has been incapacitated since the day she ran behind a pesticide-spraying helicopter as a child; we recoil at the barrel-sized torso of a Mexican boy suffering cirrhosis of the liver; we follow a mother in an Argentinian soy-farming community as she maps how cancer rates skyrocket the closer one gets to the fields.

The Bottom Line

A straightforward indictment of longstanding ecological injustice.

Interviewees including Jimmy Carter and Patrick Leahy help explain how loopholes in our laws allowed American chemical plants to keep producing banned substances, shipping them all over the world — including to countries growing food they will ship right back here. Carter recalls how, after trying unsuccessfully to fix the law while it was written, he issued an executive order to preclude this export; immediately after taking office, Ronald Reagan revoked it.

As in similar documentaries, we get a scene or two illustrating a corrupt system, which deserves to be headline news every day until it’s fixed, in which government regulators and legislators shuffle back and forth between government jobs and lucrative gigs lobbying for the very companies they purport to keep watch over. However hopeful Poison is in scenes of rural communities going organic in response to pesticide pollution, it’s hard to imagine much will change while the world’s richest country values corporate profits more than the lives of third-world farmers.

Directors: Evan Mascagni, Shannon Post

Producers: Nick Capezzera, Evan Mascagni, Shannon Post

Director of photography-Editor: Nick Capezzera

Music: Dan Halperin

No rating, 70 minutes