In 2009, directors Lars Edman and William Johansson Kalén released A Toxic Playground, a documentary in which they drew attention to Swedish mining giant Bolden’s dumping of 20,000 tonnes of highly toxic sludge next to the Chilean desert town of Arica in 1984. Unsurprisingly, the consequences of leaving an enormous amount of toxic waste on the town’s doorstep were disastrous. The children who used the waste as a playground would go on to develop severe health issues, with this film acting as a platform to get their stories heard. That documentary drew enough attention to the issue to spark a lawsuit between the Arican victims and Bolden. Arica is the follow-up that chronicles the ensuing court battle.
Born in Chile but raised in Bolden (his father even working for the organisation for a short time), Edman holds a unique position in telling this decade-long saga of events. He’s the intermediary who’s able to glide between the streets of Chile and Sweden, taking audiences with him as he speaks to those connected to the incident. This documentary, therefore, has an unmistakable personal quality to it. It’s clear how much this case means to both Edman and those who’ve had their lives torn apart, and the filmmaker ensures the human aspect of his film remains the priority throughout and that viewers never lose sight of why this battle is one worth fighting for.
While Arica dips its toes into becoming a courtroom drama, the actual drama involved in the trial is as unengaging as real-life court battles can get, though the filmmakers do a solid job in contextualising the legal jargon to make it digestible for audiences. Aside from chronicling the unfolding legal matters, an extra goal of covering the court case is designed to highlight the sly corruption of the judicial system. But without anyone from the company willing to speak on camera, this angle is lacking in substance.
There’s nothing much new shown in Arica that the filmmakers’ previous documentary hadn’t already brought to light. What this follow-up does accomplish, however, is demonstrate that there is still great injustice to fight, and it’s unlikely that these directors will stop until these people’s voices are answered.
Arica is released in select cinemas on 6th May 2022.
Watch the trailer for Arica here: