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.