Arica review – gripping tale of Chileans fighting back against a mining giant

This documentary covers the struggle for environmental justice as 800 local residents take a Swedish company to court

Gripping and exhaustive, Lars Edman and William Johansson’s documentary sheds light on the struggle for environmental justice in a globalised world. During the 1980s, Swedish mining corporation Boliden transported 20,000 tonnes of lead and arsenic-contaminated smelter sludge to Arica in Chile. With barely any effort to recycle and isolate the humongous amount of waste, toxic dust blew into residential houses and children played on the dumping ground. Generations of Chileans ended up with arsenic-related illnesses, including various forms of cancers and birth defects.

A follow-up to Toxic Playground, Edman and Johansson’s first documentary on the subject, this engrossing second film chronicles the first court case between Boliden and the town’s citizens in 2018, in which nearly 800 Chileans made a claim of negligence against the mining giant – a trial that laid bare the inequalities between the global south and developed countries. The company argued that the Chilean health authority and a local company that had bought the sludge from Boliden were responsible for any health problems. With its team of experts, one of whom suggested that the high arsenic level found in Arica residents was from seafood consumption, Boliden went all out in its attempt to crush the lawsuit; in fact, the amount that the company spent on legal fees nearly equalled the financial compensation sought by Arica’s citizens.

In contrast to the tactics utilised in the legal action, the kinship between Arica residents and the film-makers is especially moving. Over the course of her home town’s fight for justice, Jocelyn, a young girl has grown into a woman with a child named after the film-makers. To witness this evolution on-screen is astonishing. In spite of the legal obstacles, Arica residents courageously persevere through grief and loss with a dignified solidarity.

• Arica is released on 6 May in cinemas.


Phuong Le

The GuardianTramp

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