‘Complicit’: Director Heather White Discusses Her Doco’s Urgent Tech Message


Complicit has been several years in the making. It included a successful Indiegogo campaign in 2014, a trailer that garnered over 1.2 million views, and is now screening at film festivals around the world, including the upcoming Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.

The documentary looks at the real price of the devices we enjoy, as factory workers in China are made to work through horrific conditions and endure poisonous chemicals by companies solely focused on the bottom line.

We interviewed director Heather White and discussed the documentary’s deeply important subject matter, what it was that drove her to craft the project, and what message she wants viewers to take away.

THE REEL WORD: What is it about this story that is connecting so well with the public?

Heather White: Most people are not aware that there’s an issue of young people in China producing smart phones and other electronic devices, and they’re being poisoned by toxic chemicals they have no awareness of. Factories are not offering proper protections and training and the young workers do not know they are handling benzene and n-hexane in dangerous quantities.

Complicit offers a first-time opportunity to meet the workers who are paying the price for cheap electronics.

TRW: Your film features several narrative threads on occupational disease victims, family members, and activists fighting for justice. How did you go about searching for and selecting the stories you eventually ended up showing on the screen?

HW: We spent quite a bit of time initially walking through hospitals and introducing ourselves to workers in their rooms. We also made contact with NGOs [Non-governmental organisations] in Hong Kong who introduced us to workers they had been assisting.

One of the hardest decisions we had to make was not using in the final film some of the wonderful workers and their families we’d spent significant amounts of time with.  For example, we have enough material to make another film on serious work-related injuries teenagers are experiencing in the smart phone factories. The ‘hand wards’ of the hospitals are filled with young men who have just lost their right hands and are in the process of recovery.

Ultimately, we had to make a decision between focusing on toxic chemicals or serious injuries, and I went with the toxic chemicals because fixing that problem is simpler and more straightforward for the brands to do.  It can be accomplished in a matter of 2 to 3 months, whereas making factories safer to reduce injury rates is a longer-term process.

Interview continues on next page…