Films worth watching
by Robert Alstead
Enron, the energy company that went from being a darling of
the dot com era to bust, has become a household word, synonymous
with spectacular failure, and unbridled greed. Enron: the Smartest
Guys in the Room tries to answer the obvious question: how did they
get away with it? How could a multi-billion dollar company, that
was once the seventh largest in the States employing 21,000, have
duped so many people for so long? While the company was losing money
hand over fist, it still managed to post profits for its shareholders,
pushing its shareprice ever higher (almost $90 before crashing through
the floor). Not only did top executives maintain the illusion of
an incredibly successful company, they did it as they sold out their
shareholdings for multimillions.
Alex Gibney’s documentary starts off by saying this is a story
about people. However, the script is adapted from a book by Fortune
magazine journalists Peter McLean and Peter Elkind (ironic, since
Fortune regular lauded Enron between its sheets), which means the
focus is on the drama at the top of the failed mega corp. An electricity
linesman tells us briefly about how he watched his pension evaporate
with Enron’s collapse and a chaplain confides that some of
the workforce are still recovering emotionally from the debacle,
but the documentary retains a cool distance from the misery suffered
by the rank and file. It seems there was not enough room to fit
them into the Greek tragedy schema of the doc.
It does however paint a vivid picture of the cut-throat atmosphere
that executives CEO Jeff Skilling and chairman Kenneth Lay (“the
smartest guys” of the ironic title) cultivated within their
organization, the corporate sleaze and the hubris that would complete
their undoing. In the course of this post-mortem, and pre-trial
primer Skilling and Lay go to trial in early 2006
it shows that Enron was only part of a web of collusion that involved
major banks, accountants, stock analysts, politicans, and even the
president. As one interviewee puts it: “No one who was supposed
to say no, said no.”
At times it is hard to keep up with all the personalities and the
byzantine business structure. The doc’s style is fairly conservative,
there’s just a lot of detail. But the impact is undeniable,
like having the ground hollowed out from under your feet. It leaves
you with a queasy sensation that somewhere out there in the financial
ether this kind of thing could be happening all the time.
Last month the house of Representatives voted to drill for oil
in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, that could lead
to a spider’s web of drilling platforms and pipelines. Up
to a million barrels of oil a day will be pumped out of the ground
with, according to George Bush, “almost no impact on land
and local wildlife.” The true absurdity of that comment really
struck me watching NFB documentary Being Caribou. There’s
a moment in this courageous and inspiring Northern adventure, where
BC couple Karsten Heuer and Leanne Allison are sitting utterly still
inside their tent in the caribou calving ground in North Alaska.
They’ve slogged hundreds of kilometres on foot and ski with
huge packs, fought hunger, scared off grizzlies, and are now peeing
in tins and whispering to the camera lest they disturb the nearby
herd. For more about the film and links to sites campaigning to
save the Refuge visit www.beingcaribou.com.
Also, just opened is Dear Frankie, a sweet romance from Scotland.
A lonely, single mother (Emily Mortimer) pays a handsome stranger
(Gerard Butler) to pretend that he is her deaf son’s absent
father, leading to unexpectedly emotional attachments. Reviewers
at iofilm found the tone of the film forced, although it is redeemed
somewhat by the performances.
Robert Alstead, who also writes for iofilm,
is currently making a documentary about cycling called You
Never Bike Alone.