Films Worth Watching by Robert
"They have no soul to save and they have no body to incarcerate."
I have to admit that it was initially with a sense of duty that I approached the
documentary The Corporation, which Common Ground is sponsoring at the Vancouver
International Film Festival. Another film about the evils of big business, I thought.
But I was wrong. It's much more. Using a mixture of humor, hard-hitting interviews
and reportage Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, working from a script by lawyer
and professor Joel Bakan, dissect with laser beam precision the basis for corporate
The documentary aims not at a single target, although many of the usual suspects
come under scrutiny (IBM, Nike, Liz Claiborne, Gap, Bechtel, Shell, etc.), but
the underlying corporate structure.
Noting that corporations are defined by law as legal "persons," it shows
how this "person" perfectly matches the criteria of a psychopath. Ruthless
self-interest: tick. Indifference to harm caused to people, animals or biosphere:
At 165 minutes, it's a long documentary that criss-crosses the globe in its analysis,
but it's difficult to see what could have been left out. Leftist commentators
like Michael Moore, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky are interwoven with candid interviews
with CEOs and corporate insiders. A marketing executive explains the importance
of getting children to nag their parents until they are "guilted" into
buying a product. Two investigative journalists recount how Fox News pressured
them into killing a cancer story about BST, a Monsanto drug which increases cows'
milk production. And so on...
There is a palatable sense of deja vu in the various incidents of exploitation,
collusion, lies and deceit paraded here, but what The Corporation does well is
provide a cohesive and intelligent argument against current business practices
on many levels and then pulls it all together.
If there is any hope it comes in the form of Ray Anderson, the articulate CEO
of Interface, the largest commercial carpet manufacturer in the world. A self-confessed
"plunderer," he had an epiphany in the mid-eighties and has been championing
sustainable business development ever since. Sadly, he is probably a rarity. As
the film (screening 6th, 2pm; 8th, 6.30pm; 10th, 1pm) suggests, if we want more
corporate accountability, it's up to us to act.
An excellent companion to The Corporation is the BBC's four-part documentary series
The Century of Self (shown in two separate screenings on the 2nd and 9th), which
looks at the influence of Sigmund Freud's ideas on the last century.
The first part, Happiness Machines, explains how Edward Bernays applied his uncle
Sigmund's ideas about the subconscious to manipulate the masses. Where previously
advertising stressed functionality, "the father of public relations"
appealed to people's need for status and luxury. He is credited with breaking
the taboo on women smoking by stage-managing a PR event where a group of debutantes
("suffragettes" he told the media) pulled out "torches of freedom".
Sex sells. Bernays became extremely rich in his lifetime working for corporations,
the secret service and presidents, and it is alleged he even helped bring down
the democratically elected left-wing regime of Guatemala because it interfered
with US corporate interests.
Part two continues in this vein focusing on how governments convinced themselves
that it was vital in the interests of democracy to suppress each individual's
dangerous irrational desires and fears. It reveals how governments, corporations
and secret service worked on developing methods of manipulation, stemming from
techniques that Freud's daughter Anna pioneered on individuals. It proved, tragically,
to be a flawed science. But it makes fascinating watching. I'm looking forward
to seeing parts three and four.
Running from whitey - a tribesman tugs his camel in Untouched by the West
Very different is French director Raymond Depardon's Untouched by the West
(5th, 6.20pm, 7th 2pm), a fable-like film set in the Sahara. The story, told in
voice-over by a narrator, is of a fearless North African tribesman Alifa around
the early part of the last century, and how he avoided contact with the white
man. Rescued from death as a boy, he moves between different tribes before becoming
a desert guide for a group of rebels. Shot in black-and-white, this is a visually
spare film. Save for the hardy tribes people, the Saharan panoramas hold little
more than endless dunes, sand storms, and uncooperative camels.
Although tribesmen chatter away to each, there are no subtitles, only the French
narrator describing, poetically, events as they happen. The loose narrative and
still, photographic quality may not appeal to everyone, but the film has a certain
mythical, mysterious quality that is rare.
The Vancouver International Film Festival runs until October 10. Info at 604-683-FILM
(3456), 9am-9pm, www.viff.org. For reviews and
news from VIFF and the Trade Forum visit www.iofilm.ca.