The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel – directors Joel Bakan and Jennifer Abbott’s follow-up to their hugely successful 2003 documentary The Corporation (directed then by Abbott and Mark Achbar, with Bakan providing the source material)- is a good example of a film that’s both vital and messy in equal measure. Proving that the same kinds of documentary conventions that the likes of Michael Moore popularized (saying “we’ll get back to that,” pausing footage to explain who someone is, rewinding the film to double back on a point) don’t work very well today, The New Corporation feels like a timely call to arms from a bygone era. As such, it’s also a documentary that will almost assuredly be seen only by those on the same wavelength, and probably not by those who need to see it the most.
Whereas their first documentary attempted to diagnose the stranglehold big business has over democracy as psychopathic behaviour, Bakan and Abbot’s follow-up looks at how megacorporations are working overtime to obscure their true profit seeking nature by painting themselves as progressive, environmentally and socially conscious agents of change. Espousing the three P’s – people, profit, and planet – and implementing insidious tactics of control, corporations have quietly privatized democracy to such a swift degree that many average people never noticed it happening. (Look up what it means to “starve the beast,” and you’ll have a good idea of why pandemic response has been lacklustre across the board.)
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel deserves a great deal of credit for being very up to the moment, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement not as epilogues tacked onto the end of the film, but into the body of the text. It couldn’t have been an easy movie to make and have ready to go in time for TIFF.
But this admittedly necessary sequel falters by doing nothing new with the bevy of eye opening facts at hand. It trots out a lot of the same talking heads that are seen in most of these looks at corporate influence (Klaus Schwab, Elizabeth May, Robert Reich, Noam Chomsky), but it leaves little room for the next generation of activists that are fighting the good fight. It’s overly cute editorial structure and annoying adherence to documentary cliches are condescending rather than inviting, adding a nasty air to an otherwise important and critical message movie. Films about turning the tide of the world shouldn’t be this cynical, and the little sliver of hope offered up in the film’s final third doesn’t erase how Bakan and Abbott repeatedly talk down to the viewer in hopes of shaking them from complacency.
On a personal and political level, I agree with pretty much everything being said in The New Corporation down to the letter. I don’t think it’s a good documentary. I also don’t think it goes far enough.
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel screened as part of the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. It will continue to make the festival rounds throughout the fall.
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