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‘Freightened’ documentary sails the high seas of low-cost goods

Friday 16th, September 2016 / 10:35
By Paris Spence-Lang

VANCOUVER — Your skirt is from Indonesia. Your peppers are from Chile. And it all came here on a giant boat. We’ve heard plenty about the social issues that occur where these products originate—but few people are aware of what goes on while that clothing and produce heads our way. In Freightened, we learn that what we know is only the beginning.

Coming from director Denis Delestrac (Banking Nature), this documentary peers deep into the hull of the shipping industry that is so rarely thought of, save for the tanker parkade in English Bay. But it is this industry that runs the world economy: Ninety per cent of goods consumed in the West are manufactured elsewhere and shipped abroad in giant cargo ships that can reach almost half a kilometre long. These ships are what allow us to get our H&M shirts for less than the price of a Subway sandwich, but, as Delestrac quickly reveals, the costs—while hidden—are immense.

One cause of this problem is what people in the industry call “sea-blindness.” These massive ships are often forced to dock far away from urban centres, which means they are ignored by those who unknowingly rely on them. Think about it—when’s the last time you biked out to Deltaport for a picnic?

Freightened

Freightened exposes the dark underbelly of the business that brings us our comfort items.

But it extends beyond the consumer—not even the captains and crews, or even the owners, are certain of what they’re shipping. As one expert in the documentary points out, “‘Said to contain’ is a legal term.” In one container out of Iran, Nigerian authorities found 250 tonnes of rockets and grenades. The container was “said to contain” glass wool and marble slabs.

The industry is rife with other issues, and Delestrac relentlessly puts them on display one by one. From oil spills to noise pollution, jail-like working conditions to corporate crime, it’s difficult to walk away from Freightened without feeling, well, frightened.

Delestrac does an excellent job of unveiling the fascinating and discomfiting world of shipping, a topic which otherwise seems as obtuse and lumbering as the ships that fuel our world. And after a viewing, one thing’s for sure—you’ll look never look at the oil tankers in English Bay the same way again.

See Freightened at the Vancouver International Film Festival, running from September 29th to October 14th.

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