This year’s San Francisco Film Festival took place against the intense background of a country at war and in a month that took many soldiers’ lives. Even though it does not feel like war on the West coast, documentaries and their relations with today’s American reality were very popular. Almost all screenings of the two movies described below that touched upon these themes were sold out.
Hailed as the Michael Moore of Fast Food – somehow we seem to need to categorize and cannot just let something stand by itself – Morgan Spurlock ate himself half to death on a strict thirty-day McDonald’s diet. The healthy man, a dancer in his youth and graduate from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, gained weight, acquired unhealthy levels of cholesterol and ate an incredible amount of sugar, one of McDonald’s food’s main ingredients. Entitling it “Super Size Me”, he filmed the latter process and pepped it up by including interviews with experts, such as former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson who is also heir to the American ice cream chain Baskin Robbins.
The second documentary dealing with current issues in the festival was “The Corporation”. This one uses over two hours to tackle the “beast” that the western world relies on and is made of. This thing that people are part of gives them jobs, feeds their families and, in the case of publicly traded corporations, is owned by many of our fellow citizens. Unfortunately, the documentary is too long, often jumping back and forth but spiced up with commentaries by CEOs and the man who put documentaries on the public agenda again, Michael Moore. Maybe that is why this one is hailed as the “next Bowling for Columbine”, another categorization in order to sell the movie better which makes the point that even the filmmakers are back at making money. The question is whether the greatest goal really is to make money? You might say no, but if you own a share you want it to make a profit and pay your bills.
Are corporations like McDonalds not only funding political campaigns and therefore making an essential difference to how well and how much a candidate can communicate with all of us, but also selling us food that makes us sick? The food corporations are part of a huge lobby in Washington, DC which makes sure that laws are written in a way so that they conform with the food industry’s interests. Even one of their representatives interviewed in “Super Size Me” admits that they were part of the problem.
So who is to blame that Americans are consistently, through the “Americanization” of the world, using up more energy than they should? Who is to blame that obesity has reached epidemic levels? Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has definitely hit a nerve with his “bad idea”. The consumer friendly documentary that is artistic but still easy digestible like a McMenu is getting a theatrical release and, lately, a lot of coverage.
But isn’t there one thing that we have forgotten? That is our power to choose. Corporations might spend a lot of money to feed the consumer their information and urge us to consume certain products, but they do not tow us into a McDonald’s and shove the food down our throats. Indeed the choices might be limited because local products sometimes cannot compete and eventually die out, but there is always some kind of choice.
Essentially the ball is thrown back to all of us owning a share, even if it is just one, to speak up at shareholders’ meeting and let the CEOs know.
In a world where the battle for survival is to have less and better quality, have you recently checked out your own fat depots? It is the moral duty of each one of us to speak up and use our ultimate power – that of the consumer. Every time you spend a single penny you choose to add to a force that can potentially make you obese, harm the environment or drive a nation closer to war. It sounds cheesy, but the power of the consumer is the power that every single one of us has.
© FIPRESCI 2004