“When we first started talking with Adam Davidson about potential subjects for the film, we as filmmakers from Egypt and India were drawn to the question of human rights abuses that happen abroad while manufacturing consumer goods that we enjoy. How should we feel about these issues? It is a very complex subject, a challenge to tackle in a few minutes, but that was part of the fun.
We chose “What do human rights have to do with the economy” and were thrilled to be able to interview such great thinkers as Jeffrey Sachs and Amar Bhide. The story is personal for us— Geeta Ghandbir, my co-director, comes from India, and I come from Egypt — where we see what appear to be human rights abuses surrounding the work force all around us. I mean very personal — my cousin has a factory for making t-shirts in Egypt, a factory which is likely shutting down because it is difficult to compete in foreign markets against manufacturing in Bangladesh and other places. My cousin employs 15-year-old girls who are just out of school to make these t-shirts…. Isn’t that child labor? But speak with the girls themselves, and they say they would be taking another job at that age anyway, that their family cannot afford to put them through continuing school, that they are contributing to the household, and ultimately are helping the family out of poverty. They say they get several years of training they would not get otherwise. So where do we draw the lines? We decided to take on the subject of the cell phone and tin because all of us have one — we cannot ignore the conversation about it.
Geeta had the brilliant idea that the cell phone itself should have a conscience and narrate the piece trying to figure out where she comes from. Karim Amer, our producer, and I loved the concept and thought that the phone should be having an existential crisis talking with her owner. Nicolas Klein our writer took it to another level where the phone was about to commit suicide off of a balcony in New York as her owner helped her figure out how she should feel about herself.
We had a lot of fun on rooftops of New York City. But in the end, because of the seriousness of the subject (and our skilled editor Andrew’s ability to pull it together graphically) we decided to go with a more straightforward approach— bringing in our friends from different sides of the debate. We were blown away by Cam Simpson’s dedication to the story of tin and its use in our cell phone. We love that it is Amar, who is the Indian in the film who argues that it is sometimes these poor working conditions and the selling of these phones that actually is able to pull people out of poverty. We were awed by Jeff Sachs’ ability to explain complex economic problems in a way we could easily understand. And we were excited to see that not only the large companies, like Apple, Samsung, Microsoft are taking some action, but that there are smaller companies like Fairphone that are building devices that are made ‘fairly’ with great attention to workers rights around the world.
In the end the film provides no answers but asks questions that are going to become even more important in our increasingly interconnected world.”
JEHANE NOUJAIM’s feature documentary “The Square” was nominated for an Academy Award. Born and raised in Cairo, she began her career as a photographer. Following a B.A. in Film and Philosophy at Harvard, she directed “Mokattam” (1998). Noujaim went on to produce and direct “Startup.com” (2001), in association with Pennebaker Hegedus Films, and her award-winning “Control Room” (2004). She was co-director on “Shayfeen.com: We Are Watching You,” and was executive producer on “Encounter Point” (2006) and “Budrus.” She also worked as a cinematographer on “Born Rich” (2003), “Only the Strong Survive” (2002), and “Down from the Mountain” (2002).