It isn’t everyday that you meet an actual documentary director, but the screenings at DIFF actually provided me with one such great opportunity. ‘The corporation’ (which I reviewed here) turned out to be one of the gems of the festival and the presence of the very friendly and perceptive co-director Mark Achbar, was an added treat for the audience. The Question and Answer session that followed was varying in its topics of discussion, but never less than compelling. Each question was very thoughtfully responded to and numerous mentions of the 2 disc DVD came up, no doubt to let people know that if they enjoyed this, there was a lot more in store for them.
The extract that follows is not an EXACT reflection of the queries and their responses but suitable written interpretations that maintain the spirit of the original discussion to the best possible extent.
Audience member: How did you conduct the process of interviewing people? It seems like a very hard thing to do especially if you aren’t able to get the responses you desire.
Mark Achbar: The best thing to do it to be honest to them and don’t lie. For me, I let them know this was a film and it was probably going to be controversial and I hoped and expected them to be respectful and fair in their responses. There is nothing you can do really; you have to fish around for your answers. Filming ‘The Corporation’ I had to do 70 interviews and only 40 of those made it to the final cut. Each of those interviews lasted from anywhere between 90 minutes to as long as 4 hours, so it wasn’t easy.
Audience member: Did you face any legal consequences as a result of making your film?
Mark: The writer was a lawyer so I was well protected (audience laughs). No, actually, I didn’t.
Audience member: Who is really at fault here, humans or legally, corporations?
Mark: We as humans have created these corporations and they are our product. They have grown and have taken power, but ultimately that are the responsibilities of human beings. As such, the film isn’t meant to be prescriptive of a solution, the book however is more so, so I would suggest you read that.
Audience member: What was your perception of a corporation at the time of making your film and did it change gradually during the course of production?
Mark: My father was a businessman, so I grew up watching how he ran his business and the way he worked and treated his employees. For the longest time this was my monolithic view of organizations. However, I later came to see it differently and working on this project only deepened my analysis of what I thought a corporation was or should be.
Audience member: Do you think you have perhaps demonized corporations too much?
Mark: I don’t think I have really demonized them as such; it’s more about showing their immoral practices. If that was not how it came through, then that was not my intent to show them in that light, instead it was to show them as causes of a problem that exists.
Audience member: Did you manage to investigate the relationship between corporations and governments?
Mark: There wasn’t really a strong angle to it, but yes it does exist. We had a very interesting conversation about this topic with the CEO of Pfizer (who is also featured very prominently in the film). That particular conversation isn’t featured in the film, but it will be on the DVD that soon comes out.
Faizan Rashid from TEN Movies: With the increasing surge of interest in documentaries pertaining to the success of Morgan Spurlock’s ‘Super size me’ and of course the documentaries of Michael Moore, do you think this form filmmaking is gradually moving towards commercialism (audience laughs!)
Mark: Depends what you mean by commercialism (more laughter). Well, actually, if the film makes money that’s a good thing, because there was money involved in its production. It has already made about US $5 million at the box-office anyway. But if I could get my word across for free by distributing the DVD to everyone in this audience or the whole of Dubai, and if that would make an impact, I would, but it’s not practically possible (audience applauses). The money that went into the making of this film was 80% funded by taxpayers money. And yes, at the end of the day the publicity generated by these initiative help the movie succeed and get the message across.
Audience member: As a filmmaker, creating a film on a topic such as this, do you think you are optimistic or pessimistic?
Mark: Of course I’m optimistic, that’s why I made this. I don’t expect the sun to start shining suddenly, but I’m hopeful that a change for the better will be made. Social movements such as these are slow and they usually take time. Look at Dubai for example and where it has come from, and it has done so well. Bottom line is, you just can’t expect to make your profits at the expense of the people involved and the environment that is used up.
Audience member: Are there any corporations that are actually doing a good job and are balanced in their approach?
Mark: Some are better than others. Shell for example is better than Exxon Mobil. It just comes down to those that are trying and those that are not.
Audience member: Was your movie production company listed as a corporation? (Audience laughs)
Mark: Yes, we could not have qualified for public funding if it wasn’t. But it was not listed publicly; therefore we weren’t dealing with shareholders.
Audience member: When you started out to make your film, did you have a particular audience in mind?
Mark: It was very interesting to see CEO’s question themselves. It was about being self critical in all the right ways. For that reason, many MBA students are now watching this. It’s not for everyone though or for hard-core right-wingers, but for open minded business community members who are rational. It is however not exclusively for these people only, but broadly speaking, for all progressive individuals because it concerns all of us.
Audience member: What is your next project going to be?
Mark: Taking a break (audience laughs). I’m on my eight year with this now and I’ve been on the road for about 2 years promoting it. My last bit of work will be what is left with the DVD’s, which should be out soon.
Audience member: Some people said that Fahrenheit 9/11 actually put Bush back into Whitehouse. Do you think your documentary could actually help corporations in anyway, especially since it is being shown at MBA schools?
Mark: I’ll give you the analogy of a Borg. Do you know what a Borg is? They are these species in Star Trek. They feed on matter and sort of assimilate everything. That is their purpose and they take over all that exists and that is how they grow. Organizations are somewhat like that as well; there is no defense against them. If they want they could misuse this aspect of the documentary being shown at MBA schools, there is no way out of that really.
All in all, a very, very perceptive Q&A session, something that actually enriched the viewing experience of all those who sat for it many fold. It was almost like having a supplementary extension to the movie itself. At the very end of it Mark announced the good news that ‘The corporation’ had found itself a local distributor that very same day and was expected to be released here in Dubai sometime in early 2005. He made a plea to everyone to spread the word out about this documentary, since people are the only ones who could go out and generate the kind of interest and exposure this film needs. For all those of you reading this, make sure you watch this very thought provoking movie if you can and then get others to watch it as well.
- by Faizan Rashid