Montanans may not account for a large percentage of the world's four billion cell phone users, but according to film director Talal Jabari, even residents of the state's most remote corners should consider the health effects posed by the devices.
"I don't think anybody can say, 'I live in the middle of nowhere and I have no cell-phone coverage, so I don't have to be concerned,'" he says. "Your cell phone actually works up to 1,000 times stronger if it has no bars."
And by working harder, Jabari says, phones emit more of the electromagnetic radiation that a growing number of researchers say may lead to ailments such as brain tumors and DNA damage by interacting with the brain's electrical fields. While there is no scientific consensus, the European Environmental Agency in 2007 likened the danger of cell phone technology to that of asbestos or tobacco. A year later, a multinational Interphone study reported that a person's odds of getting a brain tumor increase 40 percent with a decade of mobile phone use.
Jabari traveled around the world gathering such testimonials for his film directorial debut, Full Signal, which plays at 4 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19, as part of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. He says the inspiration for the film came just more than two years ago with the birth of his daughter, and his curiosity about a cell phone antennae in his neighborhood.
"It wasn't just a piece of metal on someone's roof," he says.
In fact, Jabari says, cell towers emit the same dangerous radio frequency waves as phones. And those towers are becoming just as prevalent as the phones; one of Montana's largest carriers, Cellular One, says it has erected 36 new towers in the state since 2007. Jabari hopes his film fosters awareness about such proliferation.
"I'm not expecting everybody to throw their cell phones in the garbage bin after they see my film or see the science," he says. "If I can just affect people in this way, just to be aware, that's all one can hope for."