Preview: The 6th International Anti-Corporate Film Festival

by Peter Wong on May 19, 2011

“Blood minerals,” Comcast’s covert Internet censorship, and public nudity targeting unaccountable foreign oil companies are among the subjects of Tipping Man 6’s half-dozen film offerings. The annual three day film event, more formally known as the 6th International Anti-Corporate Film Festival, returns this weekend to the Victoria Theatre. In a program of films that takes viewers from Canada to Africa and from the 1970s to the present day, what binds these documentaries together is a common willingness to confront corporate power and influence in today’s world. These films are, in the words of the festival’s official motto, aimed at “putting an end to business as usual.”

Festival founder John Wilner generally wanted Tipping Man’s annual program to mix documentaries and feature films. This year’s selections do admittedly break that rule with an all-documentary slate. However, the sometimes visceral subjects of the selected documentaries will keep viewer interest.

Only one of Tipping Man 6’s six feature-length films has previously been screened. Festival opener, Connie Field’s “The Bottom Line” (May 19, 2011 at 7 PM), showed as part of the Roxie Theater’s marathon screening last year of Field’s epic anti-apartheid movement documentary “Have You Heard from Johannesburg.”

Fortunately, each segment of Field’s epic account was structured to follow from beginning to end a particular thematic phase in the fight to topple South Africa’s racist government. So “The Bottom Line” can stand on its own. Its subject is the international economic boycott and divestment campaigns targeting the corporations which profited from South Africa’s apartheid system. That roll of dishonor includes such familiar corporate names as Polaroid, Shell Oil, IBM, and BP. Though the individual boycotts and divestments may seem small, Field shows by the end how those efforts ultimately mattered.

The Tipping Man film most likely to strike the hardest nerve with viewers will probably be Frank Piasechi Poulsen’s film “Blood in the Mobile” (May 20, 2011 at 9 PM). Cellphones, computers, and other electronic devices would not have become commonplace parts of our modern lives without the existence of such rare minerals as colton and cassiterite. A major source for these minerals is Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo. Sales of these minerals have financed an armed conflict that rivals World War II for casualty numbers. Yet the corporations purchasing these “blood minerals” ferociously fight any restrictions on this profitable trade. Poulsen’s film promises to provide a painful object lesson on the ultimate value of “voluntary” corporate social responsibility.

A different type of unhealthy corporate influence on an African nation is the springboard for Candace Schermerhorn’s film “The Naked Option” (May 21, 2011 at 7 PM). The setting is Nigeria. Wealth generated from being the 8th largest oil exporter in the world (and the U.S.’ 5th largest foreign source of oil) has not trickled down to Nigeria’s common people. Instead, they endure incredible poverty, environmental despoliation, and early deaths at age 44. The country’s security forces are more dedicated to protecting the oil companies’ interests than those of the Nigerian citizenry, as Ken Saro-Wiwa learned the hard way.

Schermerhorn’s subjects are a group of women who threaten to publicly strip themselves naked if the oil multinationals escape public accountability. What makes this threat potent is that public female nudity flouts a major religious taboo in the devoutly Christian and Muslim Nigeria. But can the naked option truly defeat the interests of corrupt government officials and security forces?

Another slant on oil exploitation comes from David Lavallee’s film “White Water, Black Gold” (May 21, 2011 at 9 PM). Extracting oil from tar sands has been hailed as the panacea to America’s oil needs. But left out of the rosy news reports is information about the lands where these “miraculous” sands are located. Lavallee’s film introduces viewers to these targeted wilderness areas. His camera shows the snow-covered peaks, indigenous communities, and magnificent rivers targeted for industrial trashing in the name of getting more fuel for people’s Hummers. Whether people emerge from the film feeling that the despoliation price is too high to pay for societal oil addiction is uncertain.

Borfinnur Gudnason and Andri Snaer Magnason’s film “Dreamland” (May 20, 2011 at 7 PM) presents a fable about industrial exploitation of Iceland’s natural resources. This icy near-utopia once prospered because it relied on hydro‑electric and geothermal power over petroleum. Then the Icelandic government let aluminum giant Alcoa build an enormous smelting plant utilizing Iceland’s natural energy sources. The less than pleasant results provided a painful lesson in the price of joining the global economy’s hyper‑financial environment.

Tipping Man’s final film, from Georgia Sugimura Archer and Kristin Armfield, possesses the unusual title of “Barbershop Punk” (May 19, 2011 at 9 PM). Subject Robb Topolski is a software engineer and self-described libertarian. One day, he discovers that cable giant Comcast, one of the bundling TV and Internet services in one package dealers, has been quietly filtering users’ Internet access. The corporation’s act of covert censorship spurs the software engineer to raise sufficient attention to bring about a federal investigation. For those who wonder why keeping open access to information on the Internet matters, this film will provide a
very relevant answer.

The Tipping Man film festival ultimately aims to push its attendees beyond passive spectatorship. It hopes to encourage viewers to re-examine from an activist perspective their beliefs and feelings about their relationship to corporations. To that end, there are post-film discussions with such activists as Dalit Baum of the “Who Profits?” campaign and Nigerian women’s rights advocate Emem Okon.

America’s accelerating income disparities between the ultra-wealthy and the average citizen certainly calls for challenging the popularly peddled belief that corporations can do no wrong whatsoever. The films offered in this year’s Anti-Corporate Film Festival will give viewers reasons to think otherwise.

(The Tipping Man 6 Film Festival runs from May 19 to 21, 2011 at the Victoria Theatre (2961 16th Street near Mission, S.F.). For further information about the individual films or to buy advance tickets, go to www.countercorp.org .)

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