“Poisoning Paradise” Film Review: When lawyers go to Hollywood

When the Risk-Monger arrived in Geneva to watch the screening of the new anti-industry shockumentary, Poisoning Paradise, he started to suspect not all was as it should be. It was meant to be part of the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights. Sounds official, right? Well, the city must have still been recovering from the Geneva Motor Show so I suppose they did not want to pollute the streets with signs announcing this big global festival. There were no red carpets left for the foreign dignitaries, the film stars seemed to have been too busy enjoying the fresh snow in Chamonix, the attendees were mostly students … the event seemed to have been over-hyped and underwhelming … much like the film itself.

But this is what happens when lawyers and litigators take the lead in pushing anti-chemical fearmongering by buying the reputations of the once famous Hollywood names – the Brosnans. They produced 70+ minutes of pure jury-bait to stoke pestiphobia for the coming litigation season. I found myself watching random clips of cynical stock images of children playing while scary dust clouds were consuming all oxygen with “volatile” chemical contamination. Every image of a farm was labelled “Experimental Test Fields”, every farmer wore a hazmat suit and every Mom with a sign was a hero.

The film was slick and well-produced by the Brosnan family (ah, Remington Steele!). It starts with a sexy travelogue on the pristine unspoilt natural beauty of Hawaii, its unique cultural traditions and mystic earth religion. This led into a romantic view of how farming used to be before the slavery of sugar cane: hard work, good people enjoying what the earth lovingly shared. Cue evil industry and suddenly farmers are raising toxic dust and irrigation lines looking like pesticide dousers leading to coves of coloured chemicals.

For anyone with a bit of scientific understanding and an open mind, all this was painful to watch. Poisoning Paradise, at its root, was an ego-trip for activist cranks: a collection of machine-gun shock images (foetuses, pregnant women, innocent playing children …) interjected with horror headlines (from the usual pack of wolves like Hakim and Gillam) and activists murmuring about all we just don’t know about. This was all set to dramatic mood music and piano tear-drops.

What was the point of this film?

The lawyers made me do it

In reality, Poisoning Paradise was a film written by lawyers who were outlining their litigation strategies. The environmental law firm, Earth Justice, had their finger prints on many of the key frames. The key “actors” in the film who kept coming up to hold the narrative were the naturopathic, activist lawyers Robert F Kennedy Jr and Andrew Kimbrell, whose Center for Food Safety used their network to pound celluloid fist-prints.

These lawyers put on their pained faces and talk about human rights, but the film is part of their cynical strategy to  enforce the right to litigate the crop protection industry into bankruptcy.  For example:

  • They claim pesticide companies were experimenting with pesticide cocktails on people without their consent, violating the Nuremberg code. But rather than the death penalty, we will just make industry pay!
  • This is what these lawyers are trying to call “ecocide” and the skankiest among them, since the Monsanto Tribunal, are working on creating a legal framework to hold industry accountable for a fictional crime.
  • These lawyers are trying to set the narrative that innocent people are chronically exposed to long-term low dose chemical cocktails. When the cancers come, we know where these sharks will go fishing.
  • They are even looking to create indirect victims (to enhance their tort trough). The film claims tourism in Hawaii is worth $15 billion a year and it is under threat from pesticides. It suggests the Hawaiian tourist board has legal duty to inform the tourists of the “chemical contamination” they would be swimming in (they even likened the risk of pesticides in the water to the risk of a shark attack). Should the Hawaiian tourist industry’s revenues decline (not at all, of course, because of the film’s cheap fear-mongering!), then the hotels and airlines can join in the litigation bonanza. Here are some facts if you want to see how the lawyers were lying.

In their greed and deceit, these lawyers in Hollywood promise everyone will get a pony (and the consumer, inevitably, will pay the bill … and the outrageous legal fees).

The goal of the film then is to create public outrage about these human rights abuses. Once the lawyers start suing the shit out of industry (salivating to think of all of those class action personal injury fees), the potential jury pool (the public), would be baying for industry blood. This is what the La Jolla Playbook (what I had earlier referred to as the Oreskes Principle) is all about. Maybe this film was funded by the ludicrously over-stuffed plaintiff’s bar – talk about a long-term investment.

The head of the American Council on Science and Health and founder of Science 2.0, Hank Campbell, sat on the panel discussion after the Geneva screening as the voice of science. He made similar observations on the excessively high level of litigation interest in this film.

If it was not obvious by the halfway mark that the movie is stuffed with litigants and lawyers because it was made by and for litigants and lawyers, the “For More Information” at the end which goes to two litigation groups will be enough to convince you.

Needless to say, the audience and other panel members were quite aggressive towards Hank.

The truth, the whole truth and … nothing of the truth

There are some serious ethical issues about this film. There are so many bald-faced lies, deceptive tricks and often-repeated half-truths to allow this humble blogger to conclude that the groups behind this film were so embarrassed as to hide their affiliations.

Some of the wicked things the film handlers said:

There were frequent testimonies from soccer moms and male underwear models like: “I’m not aware of any study that has ever been done on the testing of GMOs on the environment” … well, try going to Google … there are thousands. But as the director knows, if it sounds shocking, and the lawyers say it’s OK, then they can run with it.

The highlight of the film was the millions, no, hundreds of millions, of dollars that the chemical industry has donated to US politicians to allow them to continue to poison poor people. The Geneva audience was agitated and alarmed as the list of politicians on the take streamed across the screen. It seemed that only Donald Trump was not bought and paid for.

But at one point, the authors of this misleading perception had to sneak the truth in. A quiet, wordy image briefly flashed across the screen saying that the pesticides industry, from 2006 to 2013, donated $376,000 (or $54,000 per year) in total to Hawaiian legislators. That is less than one speaking engagement for Vandana Shiva (with transport) per year. Now compare that to the tens of millions the Washington-based Center for Food Safety keeps pouring into their Hawaiian carpetbagging efforts and you can begin to see what a total load of bullshit this film is! But most naturopaths will just remember the loud Pink Floyd music and the list of names – they are not interested in facts.

There were other strange points racing across the screen, like a clip of a Dupont executive speaking about pesticides. Not only was it not for the film (the producers neglected to say that) but that this director has not worked for that company for the last three years. Another person they had highlighted as influencing the process had died three months before the film was released. Was this careless or cunning?

It is not so much that the Brosnans were digging up the dead in as much as they were burying the facts.

And what would an activist film be like if they did not use children?  In this case, it was not just cute kids playing in fields unaware that they just contracted cancer. This time, the Brosnans crossed into the area of ethically despicable. They staged images of kids stumbling and rubbing their eyes in a classroom, with no mention that the event was a re-enactment. They took an anecdotal event and tried to represent it as fact. If the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA have a code of ethical conduct, then they should remove Pierce’s membership.

The film made the “tradition fallacy” its very own. The GMO testing is the worst stage in the evolutionary hell of science. Traditional farmers grew local, indigenous crops (blessed by the sacred earth). These farmers were then cursed into slavery to work on the destructive pineapple and sugar plantations. Now all of Hawaii is cursed with the scourge of GMOs.

Joni
Source: twitter @HIFarmersDtr 

But the numbers do not add up. The film stated there are about 10,000 acres in GMO production. That number may sound large, but in 1980 there were 220,000 acres of sugar cane just in Kauai. Somehow the Brosnans forgot to mention that!

The film misleadingly suggests there is a form of environmental racism in play in Hawaii where the poor are more exposed to chemicals (given how the public housing is located next to these toxic experimental field test sites). Somehow I have this image of these sites being a cross between nuclear reactors and sewage plants – they could not possibly just be farms. Once again, this is a perception only an urban lawyer could concoct (in the form of victim trawling). Hawaii is apparently the healthiest state in the United States.

Out of sight, out of mind?

After 70 minutes of non-stop, full-frontal attack on industry, conventional farming, regulators and science, I somehow felt the film missed a few things.

So what was missing?

Farmers! The film producers did not talk to any farmers. Maybe a few papaya farmers would have a word or two to say about how researchers saved the Hawaiian papaya from the deadly ringspot virus. Lawyers though don’t have much use for farmers in their US class action suits (especially as their health is better than the national average). The film alluded to the farmers protesting against the film’s heroes, but they could not accept that these people in blue shirts had legitimate points.

Scientists! There were a few former agency employees and an angry MD, but almost all of the screen-time was devoted to people with no advanced scientific background. The PhDs were in politics and sociology or environmental law. My favourite part of the film was the shopkeeper who said: “I didn’t know anything about these GMOs until I looked it up!”

Pierce to Keely: “That’s good enough for me, let’s run with it!”

Hawaiian Department of Agriculture: The film notes all of the organisations they contacted who did not respond, but they failed to name the regulators who actually do test the soil, water and exposure. The state Department of Agriculture was also the regulator informing the public – what the film kept claiming did not happen. Since no lobbyists donate to them, the lawyers couldn’t be bothered. I find this omission stunningly irresponsible.

As the film slowly ran out of rage, it wanted to leave a lasting cultural vignette on the viewers, teaching us the local wisdom of “Kuleana”, loosely translated as responsibility. I thought to myself: “Sure, you have just lied and tried to scare me for 70 minutes in order to increase your funders’ litigation payouts … and now you’re trying to lecture me about responsibility!”

Not all Carcinogens are the Same!

DSC_0282
Afraid of carcinogens? Thanks but this time, I don’t want to know about them!

Those coming to the film during a human rights festival carried with them an anti-industry prejudice and the film delivered the anticipated outrage very well. The producers are seasoned entertainers – they know hard facts and science were not essential to please an audience. People wanted to hear that an evil big industry was not telling them what they wanted to hear about carcinogens.

After the film, the movie-goers, feeling quite satisfied, went to the bar to partake in the consumption of widely-known carcinogens they did not want to hear about from big industries they did not seem to mind. It was patently clear to me at the end of the evening that none of these young people were interested in learning facts or real evidence.

It is not paradise that was poisoned but the ability for people to think rationally? Poisoning Paradise should be renamed the Poisoning Paradox.

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