Cousins Conor Lewis and Zack Johnson are premiering their documentary, Dirty Laundry, at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival this week. The 75-minute film is a result of the cousins’ 4,800 mile cross country cycling trip to better understand their grandmother’s death as a result of pleural mesothelioma.
For Lewis and Johnson, losing their grandmother to a not-well known disease sparked the desire to start their next film project. After Lewis and Johnson’s grandmother passed away from mesothelioma in 2012, the pair recognized the need for a film to better educate the public on this cancer many know nothing about. “People from our generation mostly know about asbestos and meso from those late-night commercials, ‘have you been diagnosed with…’ So that’s all anybody knows,” Johnson explained. “Almost no one knows that it’s still legal or how still present it is in their daily lives. Or even what it is.”
As the cousins made their way across the country from Astoria, Oregon, to New York City, they met with many families along the way all connected by this rare cancer and documented their personal stories. Along with their personal experience with their grandmother, the documentary includes stories of those who passed away from mesothelioma and those who still battle the disease today.
The film also highlights how asbestos has impacted particular communities, including Libby, Montana, and Ambler, Pennsylvania. Both Libby and Ambler have had ongoing asbestos cleanups with the Environmental Protection Agency after being included on the National Priorities List as Superfund sites many years ago. These towns had booming asbestos industries decades ago, and residents continue to see the consequences of exposure to the mineral today.
Johnson noted that it’s clear corporate greed and potential profits from asbestos led to so many exposures in places like Libby and Ambler. “After going through towns defined by asbestos and learning about people’s lives who have been completely shifted by asbestos, I came to the realization that all of this comes down to greed, a greedy corporate decision. They were making so much money by mining and producing products with asbestos that it was worth it to do, and to worry about the employees and their suing of them later.”
The cousins hope their film can help shine a light on the dangers of asbestos and the diseases it can cause. Overall, the cousins would like to see Dirty Laundry educate on the prevalence of asbestos and asbestos-related diseases today and ultimately help prevent others from facing exposure.
With its debut at the film festival this week, Lewis and Johnson hope the documentary can become more widely distributed. Currently, they are submitting the film to various film festivals in the hopes of being picked up on a wider scale. The duo also plans to work with asbestos awareness organizations to hold more viewings for the public and raise even more awareness.