Then there is the story of the Fox investigative journalists who filed a report on Monsanto’s milk containing bovine antibiotics. 83 script revisions later, still no broadcast, and the reporters were constructively dismissed. Money talks, free speech walks.
The film ends with some victories, big and small, of the people over the corporations, including the recent defeat of water privatisation in Bolivia, and the people of Arcata, California who by participatory democracy decided to limit the chain restaurants in their town.
Michael Moore explains the fundamental flaw of corporations, namely greed, which allows him to slip under the wire. The media mega-corps can never quite resist the profits they make from the millions of viewers he pulls, so his anti-corporation shows are broadcast. “The Corporation” is on general release from Friday. See this film!
In Franny Armstrong’s “Drowned Out”, about the tribal people displaced by the Narmada Dam project in India, the history of documentary seems to have stood still. The film has the style of a 1970s anthropological film. This would look strange on contemporary television, but is truly bizarre for a film with a classic “activist” subject. A single family is picked out, presuming to tell the story of the whole community, but this reactionary procedure fails to show us anything of how different sections of the community relate to each other and organise their opposition to the dam which will flood their homes. Instead, the film is full of scenes which weaken the depiction of this communal strength. We see a protest where the villagers threaten to drown themselves, but the camera lingers on a “sympathetic” policeman trying to save them, rather than the protestors themselves. In a country such as India, where the police have a notorious record of human rights abuses, this very odd choice of image points up the political weakness running though the film. Instead of the people themselves, incessant “Voice of God” narration tries to tell us what to think and feel, which consequently in my case, I’m afraid, was not very much. “Drowned Out” reminded me of those well-meaning and patronising TV documentaries from an earlier generation which began “Johnny wasn’t like other boys……”
With “McLibel: Two Worlds Collide”, Franny Armstrong is on safer ground, the classic David And Goliath story of the two London anarchists who took on McDonalds in the courts for month after month. Here we see genuine documentary intimacy – moments such as Helen Steel’s cracking-up under the immense stress of legal minutiae having taken over her life, and moving scenes of single parent Dave Morris with his young son. But then there is the cringe-making question by the director to Dave Morris about whether he and Helen are having a relationship, presumably because “the viewers will want to know”. This one didn’t, if he couldn’t see it anyway. I had come across Ms Armstrong’s work before in an article in the Guardian on how to make independent documentary, where she had written: “Proper documentaries are unbiased, so when choosing a story to dedicate three unpaid years of your life to, make sure you do not feel strongly about it either way.” This struck me as an extraordinary statement for a committed filmmaker to make, but now perhaps I know what she means.
The superb OxDox festival continues until Friday. For programme details: http://www.oxdox.com
A special screening of "The Corporation" is at 5.30pm on Saturday 30th October at the Phoenix Cinema, Walton Street.