‘Powerful and topical’ Cost of Cobalt prequel sets tone for feature documentary
“It’s just the starting point, a springboard to make a film that goes much wider,” said Fiona Lloyd-Davies, Studio 9 Films’ founder, when asked about what she hoped the Cost of Cobalt’s legacy would be following a screening of the film at the Global Health Film Festival. “We want to dig deeper and investigate the human exploitation, the dire public health and environmental consequences, and the web of greed, corruption surrounding the extraction of the mineral Cobalt.”
The Cost of Cobalt is the first to take an in-depth look at horrific birth defects linked to cobalt extraction in the Congo, a mineral that is key to the electric car revolution. The short documentary is an official selection at the respected Global Health Film Festival 2021 and a finalist in the prestigious DIG Awards 2021.
Cobalt is a mineral that is pivotal in the fight against climate change. Along with lithium, it is needed to produce electric car batteries. But increasing numbers of babies are being born with birth defects, like cleft palates and other much worse conditions, in the Haut-Katanga region of DRC where the mineral is mined. According to research published in a sister publication of The Lancet medical journal, it could be linked to extraction and smelting practises which are polluting the environment and contaminating people working in the mines or living close to them.
Speaking at a Q&A at the GHF Festival, Fiona announced that Studio 9 Films was now planning to make a feature documentary about cobalt mining: “Our team on the ground has made great, strong connections with people involved in the story on the ground. Cost of Cobalt is our powerful calling card that shines a light on the situation and the work scientists are doing in the Congo and holds the powerful to account.”
Professor Alan Dangour, director of the Centre on Climate Change and Planetary Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who chaired the discussion said the film was “powerful” and “so topical”, highlighting a challenging topic.
Speaking alongside Fiona at the festival, which brings together health advocates, filmmakers and audiences from across the world, director Robert Flummerfelt hinted at the issues the future documentary could look at: “The extraction of cobalt is founded upon the super exploitation of Congolese labour, the destruction of the environment, and horrible, horrible public health consequences - it is warping children’s DNA.
“We in the West can enjoy extravagant lifestyles so long as people in the Congo continue to be subjected to misery and exploitation and I don’t think that’s an acceptable trade-off. We cannot resign ourselves to simple, technocratic, solutions [to the climate crisis].”
Robert also drew parallels between the cobalt story today and the mass exploitation of Congolese people involved in rubber processing and uranium extraction in the 20th century.
Studio 9 Films has two decades of experience bringing audiences stories from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Its founder Fiona Lloyd-Davies first travelled to the east of the country in 2001 at the height of the war, when few people were covering events there, and the company has consistently reported from DRC since.
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You can watch the Cost of Cobalt, which was first shown on Al Jazeera’s People and Power here.