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 The Corporation

As a filmmaker, some of my goals are to shift viewers’ perspectives, to ask more questions than I answer, to make the normal appear strange. It’s easy to get Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein or Michael Moore to identify some fundamental flaws of corporations. It’s harder, however, to find a corporate spy who admits to his shady activities on behalf of the Fortune 500; a founder of a trillion dollar asset management company to compare the structure of the corporation to a malice-free shark; a former Chairman of a major petrochemical corporation to serve tea to protesters on his front lawn; or a CEO of a billion dollar company with a heartfelt southern accent to assert that with our present environmental practices, “some day people like me willend up in jail.”

The latter quote is from Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer. Mark Achbar conducted this interview late in the game and when I saw the rushes, I felt the exhilaration of finding something that I had been searching for. I changed the structure of the entire documentary to make room for this charismatic character whose voice resonates so strongly for people like my father, a retired businessperson. Anderson sets himself apart from other corporate social responsibility proponents by actually saying that if he can’t make carpets sustainably then maybe his business doesn’t have a place in this world. I don’t believe we can rely solely on the corporate decision makers of the world to have individual epiphanies. As citizens we have no control over such things. But it does help when people who have the ability to do so, decide with missionary zeal to revolutionize their companies.

I believe it is the corporate interview subjects like Ray Anderson, people who all show a great deal of candor, who extend the invitation to trepidatious viewers of The Corporation. The invitation might say, “There are some big problems here. It’s not your fault though you might be implicated. You know it. We know it. What are we going to do about it?” That, perhaps, is the key to why our audiences appear to be chock-full of placard waving activists and businesspeople alike.

“A brand isn’t simply a pretty picture and a name that’s been repeated endlessly to induce some sort of Pavlovian response,” explains Joe Badaracco, a Professor of Business Ethics at Harvard who is featured in The Corporation. “A brand is a complicated source of meaning, trust, reliability and guidance.”

A brand can also be a corporation’s Achilles heel, as the film shows. Every brand-name product and service we consume has a story behind it. And the more one investigates, the more often that story turns out to have an unhappy ending. So many brands, through the corporations that produce them, have betrayed their stockholders and the general public. They have flouted laws and warped democracy, become stained by scandal. The working conditions of many outsource third-world workers, or even first-world retail employees, are so grim, the mere act of shopping—America’s favorite pastime—is cause for queasiness.

Yet each company’s story is also a story of people: moral people, caring people. People who’ve worked long and hard, researched, and risked a great deal of time and money so that we might enjoy the benefits of product X or service Y. This is a paradox The Corporation endeavors to illuminate.

Now, the biggest challenge—and irony—in positioning The Corporation in the marketplace of commercial feature films will be how to make it a successful brand.

It began to dawn on me that I didn’t just make a film, I led what became a 200-person “corporate” team in manufacturing a saleable product for the global marketplace, trying to maximize profit and market share, with branded consumables: a movie, a book, TV mini-series, DVD, website, t-shirts, buttons, posters….

Ironies aside, the key marketing challenge is not to pitch the film solely to the “converted.” The problems The Corporation addresses sweep through all social groups and across the world. Solving them needs that scope of engagement.

We encourage people who see the film to get someone with a different point of view to see it. And then talk about it. That would be a great accomplishment: to spark a constructive dialogue about a way out of the corporate hole we’ve dug ourselves into.


One hundred and fifty years ago, the corporation was a relatively insignificant entity. Today, it is a vivid, dramatic and pervasive presence in all of our lives. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, the corporation is today's dominant institution. In this complex, exhaustive and highly entertaining documentary, Mark Achbar (co-director of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media) teams up with co-director Jennifer Abbott and writer Joel Bakan to examine the far-reaching repercussions of the corporation's increasing preeminence. Based on Bakan's book The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, the film is a timely, critical inquiry that invites CEOs, whistle-blowers, brokers, gurus, spies, players, pawns and pundits on a graphic and engaging quest to reveal the corporation's inner workings, curious history, controversial impacts and possible futures. With insight from Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, Milton Friedman and many others, The Corporation charts the spectacular rise of an institution aimed at achieving specific economic goals as it also recounts victories against this apparently invincible force.