At only 21 minutes, Karin Mak’s documentary Red Dust maximizes every second as it follows female workers fighting for medical care from their former employer, China’s GP Batteries factory, after suffering years of cadmium poisoning. The women — mostly rural migrant workers who moved to the city to earn money — endure constant headaches, body aches, sore throats and the high, looming risk of kidney failure, lung cancer and bone disease from exposure to cadmium, which is more poisonous than lead. In their personal lives, they must deal with cost-prohibitive medicines, the emotional toll illness has taken on spouses and families and the threat of intimidation from the factory and police, as independent labor organizing is illegal in China. The women’s sadness and exhaustion is juxtaposed with an ardent determination to support their “sisters united” as they take legal action against GP Batteries and draw attention to workers’ rights and factory conditions. Red Dust, Mak’s thesis film from University of California, Santa Cruz’s social documentation program, beautifully reveals the humanity behind a true David vs. Goliath social justice movement.
Directed by Karin Mak