Interview: Filmmaker Talal Jabari explores his concerns about cell towers in Full Signal documentary at Gasparilla filmfest

TJ: About 2 1/2 years ago we had a baby, and like every new father you want to make sure your baby is safe, so we cleared out the sharp objects in our house. And we noticed that our neighbor at the time had an antenna [cell phone tower] on his roof. Now, you heard rumors about [potentially negative effects], so I began doing some research, and realized that they were more than rumors, there was specific information out there.

As a vigilant reporter, not only did I read journals and article on the Internet, but I also spoke to officials who studied this, like Siegal Sadetzki [an Israeli scientist who has found a link between cell phone usage and the development of tumors]. I assumed that since I didn’t know about the risk, a lot of people didn’t know about it, and I thought I had the responsibility to share this information about what I learned.

Where do you stand? Do you think the technology is dangerous?

My stance derives from that of the scientists who say that yes, there are potential risks. My stance is to err on the side of caution and not to instill fear. That’s what scientists say.

Were you still learning as you went along?

I think the work for the film was a constant learning process. It started out as a film to be based only in Israel, but when we learned it was so pervasive, we went to the US, then Sweden and talked to research scientists there.

Because people love all this technology, with their iPhones and now the iPad, you’re really running up against the dominant culture to be the party pooper and say “Hey, there’s something not right about this.”

And the people who challenge them are crazy, or conspiracy theorists or are on the fringe. One of the biggest surprises for me as someone who considers myself analytical is that I adopted this technology without thinking much of it. I had two cell phones, wife a cordless phone; I adopted all this without thinking twice. But since then we’ve taken out the wi-fi in our house, we got a longer cable. We don’t have a cordless phone, we have a landline. I check my cell once an hour, but otherwise turn it off for most of the day. A lot of people say, “I need it for my work, I need it to be in contact.” But I find that I’m more productive when I turn my phone off. When I program my day, I can use the phone when I want, not when that person calls me… I’m more efficient this way…..

But it’s not my point to scare people, to employ fear tactics that would push people away. People develop defensive barriers about this. They say, “I’m not going to be the one who gets sick.” Our job is to take a softer approach and say this is the science that’s out there. These scientists are credible scientists. They’re not saying “throw your phone away,” they’re saying “just be careful.” If in five to ten years, independent scientists say “we made a mistake.” what have you lost? But if the industry says we made a mistake, then we’re in a much different situation.

Full Signal will show this Saturday at Cine-Bistro in Tampa’s Hyde Park at 11 a.m.

[Editor's Note: For much more on the Gasparilla International Film Festival, check out Joe Bardi's cover story from this week's issue of Creative Loafing.]

Despite strong opposition from community members, a Hillsborough County land use hearing officer last week approved a cell phone tower at Cannella Elementary School in Carrollwood. The tower will be installed by Collier Enterprises II, the firm run by Stacy Frank, a Hillsborough Democrat running for office in State House District 47 this year.

As we reported back in November, and evidenced as recently as Monday afternoon during a South Tampa protest, Frank has alienated some members of the community over the past year who have contested the installation of such towers. Critics have also questioned statements that she has made about the potential ill effects from said towers, such as “You get more exposure from using your cell phone or lap top than from a tower.”

Although the safety issue from cell phone towers has been disputed over the years, more and more people in the Bay area and the country think there is potential for harm from wireless technologies, such as cell phones, laptops, and yes, cell phone towers.

Mainstream media is beginning to follow suit. In February, GQ published an article by journalist Christopher Ketcham called “Warning: Your Cell Phone May be Hazardous To Your Health.” Now there is a documentary called Full Signal that will be screened this weekend at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa.

Full Signal marks the directorial debut of Talal Jabari, a Palestinian/American journalist who has worked with CBS News and 60 Minutes.

We spoke to him last week from upstate New York, part of what he joked was his “worldwide tour” behind the film. We began our interview by asking him what inspired him to make it?

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