One of the world’s worst industrial disasters struck Bhopal, India in the early morning hours of December 3, 1984 when a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide leaked methyl iso-cyanate gas. A cloud of lethal gas drifted over the city of more than 900,000 people, exposing many to contamination.
At least 10,000 people died, many within hours from the initial effects of coughing, vomiting, severe eye irritation and loss of breath.
Movie director, writer, and cinematographer Van Maximilian Carlson’s new documentary film “Bhopali” focuses on the aftermath of the catastrophe and how survivors are coping health-wise and in their fight for justice against Union Carbide along with its parent company, Dow Chemical. The 27-year-old Los Angeles-based director spent three months during 2009 in Bhopal for the 25th anniversary of the disaster.
The movie combines stories of survivors, focusing on older people still affected and handicapped children who need help. Carlson said those who lived through the disaster suffered direct exposure to the gas and have passed genetic defects on to their children. Problems include “malformed limbs, things like respiratory conditions, eye issues and constant infections and lower immune systems,” he said.
The water supply remains contaminated “three kilometers from the Union Carbide factory and the contamination has spread,” according to Carlson. While the government trucks in water from reservoirs, Carlson said the water in the affected communities “runs out really quickly.”
Another issue is the “continual fight to attempt to get some form of help from the government or corporations responsible,” he said. “Bhopali” includes interviews with activists, former Union Carbide employees, local and national government officials regarding corporate responsibility.
Although unsuccessful in contacting the chemical companies as litigation continues, Carlson said the movie is getting noticed. “Bhopali” won the 2011 Best Documentary and Audience Awards at the Slamdance Film Festival.