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If commitment, frustration and rage were all it took to make an effective documentary, Poison DUst would be a classic. An angry little film about the devastating effects of depleted uranium on members of the U.S. military and others, it is too unfocused and, really, too unhinged to win many converts.

Instead of zeroing in on the central issue, director Sue Harris goes off in several directions, working in critiques of everything from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War to the war in Iraq, from early nuclear testing to the U.S. military brass to “environmental racism.” What might have been an illuminating analysis comes off, unfortunately, as more of a rant.

Poison DUst (the capitalized “DU” refers to depleted uranium) will be presented as part of the 4th annual Orlando Latin American Film & Heritage Festival (aka OLA Fest). Rosalie Bertell, an anti-radiation activist interviewed in the film, will be present at the screening. Other expert interviewees include former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, New York Daily News reporter Juan Gonzalez and CUNY physicist Michio Kaku.

Also interviewed are people who claim to have been hurt by depleted uranium, which, we are told, causes cancer, birth defects and organ damage, among other human calamities. Watching the film, your heart can only go out to these suffering people.

But to make its case, Poison DUst must give the viewer a way to assess their testimony and the other information. Was director Harris simply too angry to be able to imagine a way to persuade a sympathetic viewer to her cause? There are no interviews here with any representative of the U.S. military, and no explanation as to why that is. If the military refused to cooperate with her, we need to be told so – and we need somehow to be given some reasonable articulation of its position.

Beyond that, it would have been relevant to know how prominent political leaders with some credibility on veterans’ issues might view the depleted-uranium controversy. What do John Kerry and John McCain, for example, have to say about it? (And if they have nothing to say, that, too, would be interesting.)

The film explains that despite the dangers presented by depleted uranium, it continues to be used in weapons because it is so dense that it can cause a great deal of damage to enemy installations. Is this a valid policy? Has the government been unethical in its treatment of Americans who claim to have been hurt? Poison DUst offers more answers to these kinds of questions than it does convincing evidence to back those answers up.

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