When Miami Beach residents found out the county was spraying a pesticide banned in the European Union to kill mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, they were furious. Dozens marched to city hall with signs reading, "What are you really killing?" and "Naled does more harm than good." Some demonstrators wore gas masks.
Officials with the city, county, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention all insisted the spraying was safe and in residents' best interest, while some scientists claimed it was ineffective and potentially dangerous. The debate raged on for weeks.
Almost a year and a half removed from the fervor, the documentary Sprayed revisits the controversy to explore what happens when communities are blasted with pesticides.
Director Craig Leon interviewed mothers of babies born with microcephaly in Brazil and met with survivors of Agent Orange spraying in Vietnam. Then he made the trip to Miami Beach to hear from people on both sides of the naled debate.
"I pulled the three together," says Leon, who's currently working in Ecuador, "and it turned out to be quite an interesting story."
Sprayed, which was named best documentary short at the Hollywood (California) Film Festival, is set to screen at 7:30 p.m. February 9 at the Hollywood Florida Film Festival. A Q&A session with Leon will follow the showing.
The film includes interviews with local politicians, scientists, and residents. South Miami Mayor Phil Stoddard — a Florida International University biologist who released a study showing the spraying wasn't working in Miami Beach — makes an appearance, as does resident Michael Capponi, who opposed the spraying.
Leon, who's been making documentaries for about a decade, was living in Brazil when that country first reported a surge in birth defects such as microcephaly, which scientists soon linked to Zika.
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"I was very saddened by it," he says.
He had been working on a totally different project — one focused on architecture — when he decided to turn his camera toward the families affected by microcephaly. The idea evolved to become Sprayed.
The film doesn't draw any conclusions, Leon says. Instead, it allows viewers to form their own opinions.
"I don't follow a specific line," he says, noting there are still plenty of unanswered questions about Zika. "I try to leave things open for debate."