The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold


Written by Hannah Grantz
20 Monday 20th September 2010
Leah Borromeo, director of The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold has been working vigorously to complete her documentary showcasing the squirrelly cotton industry in India. IndiGoGo, a crowdfunding platform Borromeo is using to help raise money for her film, gives us a peak into her work so far, which she hopes to add to at London Fashion Week and in Liverpool during the next two weeks. At the completion of The Cotton Film, hopefully being released in Spring 2011, we’ll be given a sixty-minute, behind-the-scenes look into the countless suicides of Indian cotton farmers, their pesticides, and the world’s uninformed outlook on uses of cotton in the fashion world. Don’t Panic had a chat with Leah about the issues within the cotton industry and what we can all do to help her cause.
How did you first gain and interest in the Indian cotton industry, and how did you realize there was a problem?
When a friend invited me to a demo held in the city of London to highlight what Bayer, one of the world's most profligate pesticide manufacturers [Endosulfan] was putting in the hands of rural farmers. In the pub afterwards I picked up some literature and met Ben Ramsden, founder of Pants to Poverty, an underwear company based at the Rich Mix in Shoreditch. The pamphlets and newsletters showed – I checked out their stories – people who had not only suffered malformed births, cancers, brain oedemas, skin diseases from the use of pesticides... but those who died. Deaths through cancers were gradual but the suicides were what shocked me. We can readily accept that chemical things, if used incorrectly, will harm us. That's why we don’t drink bleach under the sink. But to make a conscious decision to kill yourself – and over the fact you've been thrown into a cycle of debt.... that's capitalist murder.
So your next step in finishing The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold is Fashion Week here in London, then you hope to get to Liverpool. What’s going on there?
It’s a trade event for those in cotton.
And right now you’re trying to raise money to get there, how can we help?
I'm just over halfway there. I’ve been told by friends who are in the independent documentary game that this is one of the only ways they manage to keep their projects going – small requests at regular intervals. It's annoying there isn’t a UK based one yet, but there will be. I am also working on a film called Just Do It about climate activists – that's been partly crowdfunded, as is another thing I'm directing, The Russell Tribunal on Palestine. It's the only way to go for now but everyone’s big worry is what will happen when people stop giving.
How much more time do you have to reach your goal?
700 USD in 13 days. I put up the appeal last week, so it’s not going too badly but obviously the sooner I can get to my goal, the sooner I can start getting things together for Liverpool.
What do you plan to do at the trade event?
I hope to be getting the other side to the cotton argument – why people use GM, pesticides etc.
You can get three times as much cash for organic cotton as conventional, so middlemen are buying both, cutting them together then selling them on as 100% organic. There's no way you can test or tell which is which, especially after the ginning stage where the seeds are taken out.
Well, I feel jipped now.
Imagine how I felt when I saw it. I sneaked into a Swiss farming programme when in India. They claimed to have a permaculture programme, an organic one etc etc. Then when you spoke to the locals who had to work there they said, "Oh we're spraying this field, spraying that field."
I'm really curious how someone sneaks into a place like that.
By walking in with a monk. A monk on a motorcycle no less
So, once your documentary is completed, what do you hope we’ll take away from it?
I want people to not just think about how they consume but about whether they should be consuming at all. Money is one of those things we can't get away from, for now. But do you really need a new winter coat when last year's one will do – or do you have a friend who can benefit from you paying them to revamp your clothes instead of buying new ones. I'm asking people to change how and what they buy.
Support The Cotton Film: Dirty White Gold by donating here.

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  • Guest: monstris
    Tue 21 - Sep - 2010, 20:19
    Peter's right, help us finish this film. Today I spoke with two designers at London Fashion Week who are seriously considering switching to organic for their whole cotton line. All it takes is a little push, one stroke to start a revolution.
  • Guest: peter
    Tue 21 - Sep - 2010, 00:18
    Important subject, its gotta get made, leah needs all the help she can get, we buy clothes we are implicated, we should be aware of the truth of "globalisation".