The Congo, 5 million people killed in the last 15 years, an estimated 300,000 women raped, massacres, exploitation of child labour, all in a war fighting for control of the countries abundant natural resources. Ores that produce minerals such as Coltan, Tin, and Tantalum; which are used primarily in the production of consumer electronics and, among them, your mobile phone. You’re feeling pretty bad right now I expect.
But wait a minute, there must be something that can be done, if say for example we notify Nokia. One in three mobiles on the planet are a Nokia. They’re the worlds largest mobile phone company. If we can only make them aware of the situation, then perhaps we can begin a long road to sorting this whole thing out? Oh what. They already knew about it all, for the last ten years.
Welcome to the film. We are introduced to our director and main protagonist Frank Poulson, and we’re in the shiny world of Nokia! Whom surprisingly have little to no time of day to talk to an annoying documentary filmmaker about these issues. So the mobile company won’t listen, they won’t even give us an interview. Well perhaps if we take a trip, bring back some evidence showing direct links to the minerals used in their product and the exploitation, rape and mass murder happening in the Congo – maybe then we will at least get some acknowledgment.
So the journey into the Congo begins, and after a few meetings with UN officials, South African businessmen and a mad African general, showing off his trophies of war, the UN declares it far to dangerous to go out to the mines. A massacre has only recently occurred at the mine of Bisie, controlled by a defected section of the Congolese army. It would be extremely dangerous to go there as a white foreign journalist. In the makeshift porter cabin of the UN, the figures 5 million, 300,000, are beginning to feel a bit more real.
But Poulsen pursues his goal. The army he is told is his only hope of getting a lift to Bisie, though it is a touchy subject as many of their generals profit from the mines. It’s not safe at all, to make them look bad in a film would be very dangerous, and if you hadn’t already noticed, everybody has guns, lots of guns. But surprisingly, the army agree, and Frank is flown out, deep into the jungle. And as we watch the little plane take off again, disappearing into the distance, there really is no turning back.
What follows is difficult to do justice to in words. The journey into the depths of the jungle, past the gatekeepers, through the camp and down that ladder, is something that has to be seen with your own eyes. The reality of the situation hits you all too hard in the face. The rawness of the camera work, the handheld aesthetic working fantastically as a constant reminder that this is real, there is no trickery, no bullshit statistics. Our character Poulsen fades away into the background and we, the audience, become the protagonist. Seeing through the eyes of the camera, we walk through the camp, we are harassed by the miners, we feel the sweat and the bodies of them crush against us in the claustrophobia of the mine. Our guide, a boy called Chance, chips away at the rock wall, in the bottom of the black pit he holds up to our eyes what we have come to see. His extraction of a lump of mineral ore, proof.
All too soon we’re back in the western world, the neon lights and the smoothness of the escalator ride are sickly sweet, tainted by what we have just seen. But now we have proof, we have been there, they have to listen to us now! They will at least acknowledge that there is some connection between their products and the horrors of the war in Congo. But time after time, Poulsen is fobbed off, kept out by a wall of rhetoric, bureaucratic bullshit and a constant evasion on the part of Nokia to accept even the slightest responsibility surrounding the issue of conflict minerals. We are left not only feeling bad about the mobile in our pocket, but helpless to do anything about it.
Blood in the Mobile is by no means the most original documentary ever, it follows a tried and tested style of investigative journalism; a lone reporter, out to expose some truth and change the world. However, it does this exceedingly well. The director expertly presents the contrast between Europe and the Congo, forcing you to look on familiar settings in a new light. Most importantly the film keeps it simple. Sticking rigidly to its liner narrative, it holds to it’s story; namely Poulsen as a customer of Nokia going to discover how his (and many other peoples) mobile, affects the trading of conflict minerals. The result is a documentary that is easy to follow, relatable, does not overload us with information and, as a consequence, shows us the world rather than telling us about it.
It is also due to this final fact that the film has far from a happy ending; an overriding feeling of helplessness pervades the narrative. But then really what do you expect when trying to take on a giant like Nokia? Poulsen is by no means a passive observer, actively accusing Nokia and seeking out solutions to the trading of conflict minerals. However the bottom line seems to be; until there is consumer demand for fair-trade electronics, companies like Nokia will refuse to change the way they do business or to even acknowledge that it has anything to do with them. It’s all on their terms. The reality of this helplessness visibly takes it’s toll on Poulsen by the end of the film and, as much as we want it, there is no heroic rescue for the children working in the Bisra mines.
The film however still stands as an excellent protest; one voice at least saying something must be done. For in order to create the conditions for change, these atrocities need to be made real for us. It’s hard to imagine what the rest of the world is like, from the comfort of Europe. This films journey to the Congo is about as close as you will get to experiencing the conditions that the chain of supply and demand create in our world (aside from actually going there yourself, and go luck with that). Blood in the Mobile makes it possible for you to take a trip down the ladder, to experience that chain from the other side. Afterward you might not just feel regretful, or helpless about the mobile in your pocket, you might even be inclined to do something about it.