The Corporation


Directed by: Jennifer Abbott, Mark Achbar
Written by:Joel Bakan, Harold Crooks
Released: September 2, 2004
Grade: A

I’m a big fan of The Simpsons and one of my favourite lines is when Lisa goes to Homer – “but if you’re the police, then who will police the police?”  The Corporation is an explosive documentary which looks at the seemingly limitless power that corporations have generated for themselves across the globe.  You may be surprised to know that corporations didn’t come about until the 19th Century.  They were heavily regulated, couldn’t borrow money, couldn’t own other corporations and were only allowed by the government if they were to provide a lasting service to the community.

How things have changed.  In 1999, the Bolivian government (on advice from the World Bank) privatised the supply of water.  This precious resource was now owned by a subsidiary of Bechtel, one of America’s leading corporations.  Water rates subsequently doubled and it even became illegal for residents to capture rainwater in tanks.  American shareholders were the winners.  Bolivian families were the losers.         The Corporation is a Canadian documentary which looks at the repercussions of capitalism and the unstoppable ascendancy of the modern day company.  It’s undeniably fascinating and if you’re wondering why you haven’t heard some of these amazingly diverse stories before, you’ll soon find out.  In the words of a leading Fox News executive to an investigative journalist - “we just paid 3 billion for these television stations – the news is what we say it is.”  

This brilliant film does everything a good documentary should.  It poses questions of the audience and leaves us continually thinking and questioning our beliefs.  It’s provided at least two hours worth of conversation for me since I left the cinema last night.  It acknowledges that corporations do have benefits but the ultimate goal is no longer to provide a service to the community, it is to increase shareholder value.  In America each year, leading corporations are fined hundreds of millions of dollars by the government for breaches of environmental law.  The problem with this is that it’s cheaper for corporations to pay these fines than to find more environmental friendly resources.  And so, they continue to pollute the earth at a rapid rate and the share price stays healthy.

Each view will draw something different from the film but for me, it was a realisation that something needs to be done and so.  We are plundering the earth’s resources at a rapid rate and if we continue to do so, little will be left for generations which follow.  Unfortunately, governments are finding themselves less and less able to intervene in this problem.  It is the corporations which control the government and not the other way around.  In one interviewee’s words corporations are now the “high priests and reigning oligarchs of our system”.  Governments of the world have privatised many basic services and continued to open barriers to free trade.  What may be good economics has ramifications which are scarily going unnoticed.

I must sound like a political spokesman rambling on like this.  I admit that I have believed in this topic for many years.  Don’t think though that it is crazy propaganda designed to smear corporate high-flyers.  The film was placed 3rd by the audience at one of the world’s most prestigious showcases, the Toronto Film Festival, and was voted the best documentary by the audience at our own Brisbane International Film Festival.  All I ask is that you see it for yourself and make up your own mind.