Revisiting ‘The Corporation’ Ahead of TIFF 2020
By Pat Mullen
A few consecutive nights of rain and rural bandwidth inspired a trip through the cottage archives for this documentary fan. Without Netflix, Cineplex rentals, or free streams from the library to pass the night, I turned to the most reliable source of entertainment: physical media.
The film archive at the Mullen family cottage is a dumping ground for old VHS tapes. (My brother and I are avid collectors, while many members of our large extended family donated unwanted oldies whilst upgrading to Blu-ray or streaming.) Tucked in between dusty entries from James Bond collection and old tapes of Cavalcade and Lawrence of Arabia from my Best Picture binge was a copy of a film I’d been meaning to revisit, The Corporation. Surprisingly enough for this documentary fan, it’s only one of two docs in the VHS collection. (The other is The Kid Stays in the Picture.)
Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan’s 2003 film is a true masterpiece of Canadian documentary. The Corporation was ferocious at its time and retains its bite today. As the filmmakers unpack the structures, policies, and loopholes that allow corporate culture to thrive, they interview great thinkers like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein to interrogate the increasingly pervasive forces of corporations on society.
They ultimately create a profile of a psychopath, as corporations meet all the requirements to diagnose an individual as such. But if psychopaths may be removed from society for treatment and for the protection of the greater population, the question of why corporations may enact their own rampant violence upon society needs to be answered. In 2020, when Trump is in the White House and a viral pandemic is widening the rich/poor gap while corporations thrive, the patient requires further treatment.
In 2017, the POV team selected The Corporation as one of ten feature films to serve as Canada’s Documentary Essentials. (I.e. a beginner’s guide to great Canadian docs) “Yet like many of the docs that would follow The Corporation’s lead and foster the decade’s boom for activist-oriented non-fiction filmmaking,” wrote Jason Anderson while revisiting the film, “its ultimate purpose was to inspire viewers to imagine a different kind of world and take action to make it happen.” In addition to being an engaging and provocative film, The Corporation is a cornerstone for impact producing models that harness the power of documentary to inspire audiences to take the next step towards enacting social change. Its 2005 2-disc DVD release was a feat matched only by Bowling for Columbine, and featured such an array of beefed-up bonus features that we asked if the film represented a cottage industry for activism.
It won the Canadian Genie for Best Documentary Feature along with audience awards at Sundance, VIFF, and Thessaloniki, among other festivals, mobilising audiences worldwide while becoming the highest grossing Canadian documentary at the time with over $4.6 million worldwide, prompting re-evaluation for the performance envelopes for Canadian docs.
The film is a must-watch ahead of its long-awaited follow-up, The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel, which will premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival this fall. The sequel adapts Bakan’s upcoming book The New Corporation: How ‘Good’ Corporations Are Bad for Society, just as the previous film drew on the author’s work. The film will further the larger conversation of inequality that’s worsened since the original film, as we’ve gone through Occupy movements, cultural reckonings, and the worst embodiment of corporate America elected to the nation’s highest office. It’s sure to be one of the biggest Canadian flicks to premiere this fall—a victory for Canadian franchise filmmaking when even 007 can’t find his way to audiences.
The Corporation is available to watch for free below via Encore+. If anyone needs a trusty old VHS, though, let me know.