Under a monsoon rain of sparks blowtorches tear through the thick steel skin of a ship. As they are cut lose, swaths of metal crash to the ground with thunder. This is the ship graveyard, final destination for most of the world’s shipping fleet, a place soaked in hazardous material and void of all natural life save a few men in need of subsistence and the crows that make nests from pieces of iron wire.
In Iron Crows, South Korean documentary filmmaker Bong-Nam Park shines a light on shipbreaking, a job more dangerous than Alaska crab fishing and one that pays less per day than the cost of a budweiser at an Alaskan bar.
The work at the world’s largest vessel demolition yard in Chittagong, Bangladesh is dangerous and grueling, but to the film’s star, a 12 year old boy named Ekramul, the need for food and shelter is more powerful than hard work or laws against child labor. For others the work is routine. An elderly worker named Rufik remembers how it all began back in the 1960s, with a single ship that washed ashore. Later twenty-one-year-old Bilal shows the camera how unlikely it is that he will reach even middle age when a large section of one ship nearly decapitates him.
The impressive footage shot by Park evokes an atmosphere of menacing danger, but the faces beam when a new ship comes in. Most of the workers send a portion of their meager salary back to their families, and they are proud of that. But Bilal has not succeeded in saving $700 in 10 years, as he dreamt he would. His visit home to his wife, where he sees his undernourished, blind child for the first time, tears at his heart. This is a glimpse into the inner world of shipbreaker.
Here is a preview of the film “Iron Crows”:
The film, which has received positive reviews, will premier tonight in select cities and is expected to be available on DVD later this year.