Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

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

An activist film is bound to drag out the cynics as well, those who will straight away ask how the film was funded. Copyright rests with “The Big Picture Media Corporation”, an irony not missed by the film makers. Abbott laughingly explains, “we're not trying to say 'we're above it all', we're all implicated. It's very difficult not to be implicated in corporate culture in this world we live in. We have a section i
n the film where we look at undercover marketing, and we have our own branded products as a sort of self implicating joke”. However, before the joke gets out of hand, there is a big qualification, “our critique focuses on the publicly traded transnational corporation, which is quite different from a small corporation that is not bound by the same structural imperative that a publicly traded corporation is, i.e profit”. Indeed the funding for the film was found through various public funding initiatives in Canada, meaning that seventy to eighty per cent of the film came from taxpayers.

As the director of an unashamedly activist film I ask Abbott how she feels about the sharing of films on the internet, illegal downloads etc. How does she feel about people downloading the film for free? “I believe in sliding scales [laughs]. If that's the only way that someone is going to get to see our film, I personally don't have a big issue with it. At the same time, the film did cost a lot of money to make, and those that made the film sacrificed a great deal personally and even while the film has grossed over $3 million worldwide, the film makers haven't seen that money and it would be nice to be properly rewarded for our efforts. If someone can afford the film or to go and see it in a theatre, that's obviously prefereable, but the more people that see it the better”. She goes on to point out obviously that this is her personal opinion and not one necessarily shared by the other film makers or the film distributors.

That the film has made profits speaks more to the skill with which it was made and the times we live in, than anything else. To what extent though are we at the crest of a wave with documentary film popularity. I cynically suggest that after the American Presidential election, regardless of the victor, that there'll be a public fatigue with these searching political documentaries. Abbott strongly disagrees: “every time I visit the United States I'm just struck by how politicised that country is, and it is centring around the Presidential elections of course, but there are so many people beside themselves, outraged by many of the things that we portray in the film. So I see it continuing”.

One of the primary questions that will strike a viewer emerging into the billboard crowded daylight after the film, is 'Can there be such a thing as a good Corporation?'. It's a question that is at the heart of the film, and one that Abbott and her fellow film makers have thought about long and hard. Her considered answer mirrors the strength of the film, and demonstrates why the film has struck such a chord with viewers around the world. It's worth quoting at length: “I think that there can be corporations that are publicly traded that do some good. Not all corporations are harming the earth. Many corporations are providing goods and services that we all rely on. That said, the problem is that through a series of legal precedents corporations are legally bound to put profits before everything else, even the public good. So, that's an operating principle that's highly problematic and obviously must be changed. If there's a corporation that's doing some good in the world, and they’re also making a profit, that's within the structural mandate of the corporate form. It's when doing something good in the world lowers the profit margin that the operating principle that governs the corporate structure becomes problematic. When social responsibility and profit co-exist, then a corporation can do some good, but the problem is that they're not mandated to server the public good, they're mandated to server their own interests”.

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