Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Corporation as a psychopath. Film-maker Jennifer Abbot in interview

The interviews combine all the usual suspects that you would expect to see in an anti-corporate film, Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, and Noam Chomsky to name a few. What sets The Corporation out from the glut of documentary films out there at the moment is precisely its scope. They've also got thought provoking interview footage from Milton Friedman, the Nobel prize winning economist who has provided Neo-Conservatism with many of its founding principles, as well as a number of high profile former CEOs such as Mark Moody-Stuart of Dutch Royal/Shell, and Sam Gibara of Goodyear Tires.

As the dominant institution of our age, when tackling the corporation as a subject it must have been a huge task. How did the film makers choose their material? “It always had to come back to the corporation as an institution, and so that was the central thread throughout all of the selections”, explains Abbott. “Then we had a series of ideas that we wanted to present. On the one hand it was a case of finding stories that would best support those ideas, but then again there were lots of detours as well, because when you go out into the field you encounter lots of things you couldn't have anticipated. We would get interviews with people saying things that seemed very important that certainly weren't in our original vision for the film.”

One of these 'detours' turned out to be an interview with Ray Anderson, the CEO of the worlds largest commercial carpet manafacturers, who, Damascus style, was struck by the damage that he and his company, unwittingly, were doing. His interview segments in the film are interesting not least of all because they show a difference of emphasis between the film makers and Joel Bakan who has developed the ideas of the film into a book. “We didn't agree on everything”, conceeds Abbott. “We agreed on most things, but there was some disagreement on how Ray Anderson would fit into the film. I think the different treatments of Ray Anderson speaks to the differences between film and text”. Certainly hearing Anderson speak in a soft southern twang, with a smile on his face, seems to add more depth to his words, giving him the benefit of the doubt when he talks about “scaling Mt. Sustainability”. Bakan, in an interview with P.O.V magazine suggested a certain amount of skepticism about whether Anderson's goals would be achievable. In the book Anderson is a minor figure, but in the film he emerges as somewhat of a hero. Abbott, who argued strongly for the emphasis of Anderson in the film, explains “for me, he's a step above other corporate insiders who talk about social responsibility because he says 'If I can't do what I want to do sustainably then I'm going to have to stop doing it’. The fact that he is able to admit how he operated with much blindness for so many years, and to say on film that in the future people like him should be in jail, in filmic terms these are things that work very well. People do find him inspirational, and it was very important to us that the film was not only about despair.”

She rejects the idea though that the film is falsely optimistic. “Ultimately it ends on a somewhat hopeful note, but not a naively hopeful note. That hope I don't believe is disengenous. There are so many people and organisations working tirelessly to reclaim our democracy and to stop corporations and governing bodies”. The upbeat note was also driven by the fact that this is unapolagetically an activist film. It demands a viewer's response, and hopefully action. “Our promotional material for the film, for example, the first line of it is 'a call to action'. If you want to inspire film to create change then obviously you can't just heap despair on their shoulders and expect them to walk out of the theatres and do anything !”[laughs].

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