Song of the Canary: Industrial Illness in America

Coal miners once took caged canaries into the mines because the tiny birds were sensitive to carbon monoxide gas. By collapsing and dying, the canaries warned of the danger that would otherwise have crept up undetected. Today, workers themselves have become the canaries for other workers and for society as a whole. By falling sick and dying, they warn that a crisis has struck the nation as stealthily as poison in the coal mines. Over 100,000 American lives are lost each year to industrial diseases. Song Of The Canary is the first comprehensive documentary film to examine this problem.

At a chemical plant in California, the filmmakers discover that workers have become sterile from manufacturing a potent farm pesticide. In North and South Carolina, retired cotton mill workers with “brown lung” disease battle mill companies and government bureaucracy for workers' compensation and safer working conditions. Through these two dramatic situations, the film probes the complex issues of government regulation, medical research, workers' compensation, and the actions of employers, unions, and workers themselves when confronted with life-threatening hazards on the job.

On the occasion of its World Premiere at the Roxie Cinema in November, San Francisco Chronicle critic Judy Stone observed: “Song Of The Canary is commendably clear, modest, un-polemical and a model of the documentary film as investigative journalism.”

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