“Corporation” Doc Set to Stir Festival, and More From a Busy Weekend in Toronto
by Eugene Hernandez
A provocative, entertaining, and at times chilling documentary that explores the role of corporations in our lives will debut at the Toronto International Film Festival tomorrow and it is bound to have people buzzing after its press and industry screening (it will play for the public later in the week). “The Corporation,” from Mark Achbar (co-director of “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media”), Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan, examines the nature and history of corporations and includes specific examples of corporate deception, including media bias. Through interviews with 42 people, among them company CEOs, thinkers, activists, and whistleblowers, including Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, and executives from Pfizer, Goodyear, and Royal Dutch Shell, “The Corporation” asks some pointed questions that offer a generally unflattering portrait of increasingly global businesses. indieWIRE screened the film last week and spoke with the filmmakers this weekend, ahead of Tuesday’s debut at the Toronto festival.
At the core of the movie, which includes a collection of stories illustrated with archival footage, is a diagnosis of the corporation as meeting the criteria of a psychopath. Noting that corporations are designated as legal persons under the law, the filmmakers explore the personality of this “person” and arrive at their diagnosis through examples that detail corporate harm to workers, humans, animals, and the biosphere. Some of the most damning criticism of corporations comes from a corporate executive, CEO Ray Anderson of Interface, the world’s largest carpet manufacturer. The chief had a major environmental “epiphany” and decided to re-organize his business as a result. Also, of particular interest given the recent actions of the FCC to allow wider media ownership by the largest entertainment companies, will be the film’s exploration of Fox News pressuring its reporters to kill a story that exposed links to cancer in a synthetic Monsanto bovine milk hormone.
“It’s complicated,” Achbar told indieWIRE. “We’re not out to attack individual corporations, what we are trying to provide is an analysis of the institution — it was almost artbitary which corporations we chose to illustrate the various points.” But Bakan acknowledged that some companies may be concerned. “We are now living in a time where simply questioning or trying to tell the truth about corporations and their power is pereived as a threat,” writer Joel Bakan told indieWIRE. “I think there is paranoia (and) usually paranoia develops in a system when it feels threatened — I see this paranoia with some optimism.”
Bakan, who wrote the film, is also author of the forthcoming book, “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” which will be published by Simon & Schuster in the U.S. in March. The film marks a close collaboration between Bakar, who wrote the book while the film was in production, and film co-director Achbar. The film is based on the same research contained in the complementary book, yet additional interviews are available in each.
“I have always been struck by the strangeness, bizzareness, and dangerous nature of the corporation as an institution,” Bakan, a noted lawyer, professor and author, told indieWIRE this weekend. “Why would any society create such a thing (and) give it such immense power? [That] struck me as something that people should know about.” Continuing he explained, “(People) should know what this institution is about and they don’t — there needed to be something that told the truth.”
Offering her perspective on the project, the film’s co-director and editor Jennifer Abbott said, “To me the corporation, while it does deliver goods and servies and does create wealth, it does create harm.” However, she explained that the film is intended to provoke a discussion more than anything else. “I don’t think that we are trying to say that these are the answers,” Abbott told indieWIRE, “(We are trying) to ask some pretty fundamental questions about the way that our society is currenty being run.”
At the time that Achbar met Bakan he was considering a project exploring globalization, while Bakan was pursuing a book on markets and capitalism. Reflecting on his lofty goals for the project, in the conversation with indieWIRE this weekeend, Achbar said, “I guess I start from a position of wanting to reduce suffering in the world, I see the impact of globalization, I also see a lot of pain and suffering and inequality and unfairness.” Continuing he said, “To the extent that I am one single individual on the planet, I try to address these issues through media.” The two-hour and 45-minute documentary, which is the same length as “Manufacturing Consent,” which Achbar co-directed with Peter Wintonick, was supported primarily through Canadian television funds. Now the filmmakers will be seeking to secure a deal to distribute the movie, perhaps even entering discussions with executives from companies owned by major media companies just as Michael Moore did with his film “Bowling for Columbine” which United Artists successfully released last year, ultimately winning an Oscar.
“Is it hypocritical that we make this film and then seek distribution from a corporation?,” posed Bakan during a conversation about how the filmmakers hope to distribute the movie. “The guiding principle has to be designed to change the way people think (and) to promote equality — it is necesary for it to be viewed as widely as possible.”
“I am hoping for the broadest possible distribution (of this film),” Achbar said. “I am hopeful that we can enter the league of mainstream reach,” he continued. Late last week, Achbar closed a deal with Cinetic Media to sell the film, although the filmmaker does maintain a close relationship with Zeitgeist, which distributed “Manufacturing Consent.” While he admitted that he is open to exploring a deal with a larger distribution company, he added that it will take “an impressive offer to knock Zeigeist out of the running.” The company released “Manufacturing Consent” in 220 cities. “I am impressed with that, but I owe it to the film to get the maximum possible exposure for the release of the film, assuming it will get (distribution) offers.”
Of course, given the subject matter of the film, it will be interesting to see if the specialty divisions of the Hollywood studios pursue a pact for the film. “The ironies are extreme,” Bakan concluded, “As Joel has gone with a major publisher that is owned by Viacom, so to will the film seek the largest possible distribution.”
NEWMARKET GETS “MONSTER”
In a deal announced Sunday, Newmarket has acquired theatrical rights to Patty Jenkins’ “Monster,” the Aileen Wuornos biopic that stars Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci. The film features Theron as Wuornos, a hooker who was executed in Florida for killing seven men in the 1980s. Ricci stars as girlfriend Selby Wall and Bruce Dern plays a friend who tries to protect her. In the announcement yesterday, the company confirmed that it will open the film in December for awards consideration and expand the release in January. All other North American rights to the movie have been acquired by DEJ Productions which will work with Newmarket on the theatrical release.
The film was produced by Brad Wyman, Donald Kushner, Charlize Theron, Mark Damon and Sammy Lee. Executive Producers are Clark Peterson, Meagan Riley-Grant, Stewart Hall, Andreas Grosch and Andreas Schmid. The film was produced by MDP Filmproducktions GmbH and VIP Medienfonds.
ROCKING IN THE FREE WORLD
Neil Young, arguably the standard-bearer for honest, in-your-face, and deeply personal music has once again taken up a camera and directed a film, this time an extraordinary 10-song cycle called “Greendale.” What most people probably don’t know is that Young has directed three prior films: 1972’s “Journey Through the Past,” 1979’s “Rust Never Sleeps,” and 1982’s “Human Highway,” the first and third of these films under his pseudonym Bernard Shakey, as he did with “Greendale”. Serendipitously, Young’s current tour had him playing in Toronto on the opening night of the Toronto International Film Festival, the night before the world premiere of “Greendale”; he played a sold-out show with quite a few film biz notables in attendance. Making the scene at the show or post show meet-and-greet were actor Woody Harrelson, Focus Features chief James Schamus, producer’s rep Jonathan Dana, and journalist Harlan Jacobson, among others.
The first 90 minutes of the show was essentially a live recreation of the film as a theater piece, modeled on a high school drama production. In an interesting twist, one that made Young himself very happy, the audience at the show paid very little attention to Young and the musicians, preferring instead to watch the actors on stage. Following the “Greendale” performance, Young reappeared with his legendary band Crazy Horse (three-quarters of which play on “Greendale”) and powered through about an hour of classic tunes.
The following day saw the world premiere of Young’s film version of “Greendale,” a hand-held super-8mm exercise merging film and music, using actors lip-syncing Young’s words while acting out the story with both straight-ahead imagery and more experimental visuals. At an interview with New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell following the press screening, Young described his directorial style by saying that he prefers static shots with motion within the shot over moving the camera. That technique works well with the material of “Greendale,” which, while at times a tad literal, is largely an entrancing and moving experiment that pays off far better than many might have though possible, given Young’s relative inexperience behind the camera (he served as cinematographer). A fable about the intrusiveness of modern media and environmental degradation, the film tells the story of three generations of the Green family and the various tragedies and triumphs that impact their lives. “Greendale” is the epitome of a project that when described, sounds like a train wreck in the offing but is a minor masterpiece when complete.
[Mark Rabinowitz contributed to this report.]