The Top 10 Films that Explain Why the Occupy Movement (and other social movements fighting against the current socio-economic status quo) Exists
July 18, 2012 - for your summer viewing, play them in the background while you’re blogging.
1. Rise Like Lions: OWS and the Seeds of Revolution (2011)
When in doubt, go to the primary source. Released just a week ago, Scott Noble, who also produced Lifting the Veil, pulls together a combination of internet and original footage to create the first feature-length documentary on Occupy Wall St, telling the story and motivation behind the movement in its own words. It is a treatise to the beautiful awakening of human heart and hope that has arisen in the American people, capturing the imagination and dreams of a new generation’s struggle to create a better world.
”Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number -
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you -
Ye are many - they are few.’
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
2. Lifting the Veil: Obama and the Failure of Capitalist Democracy (2011)
“This film explores the historical role of the Democratic Party as the “graveyard of social movements”, the massive influence of corporate finance in elections, the absurd disparities of wealth in the United States, the continuity and escalation of neocon policies under Obama, the insufficiency of mere voting as a path to reform, and differing conceptions of democracy itself.”
Lifting the Veil is a significant achievement - offering a definitive critique of the Obama administration from a reality-based perspective (Ie, a critique not based on propaganda and spin). It thoroughly deconstructs the hypocrisy of U.S. politics, democracy, capitalism and other aspects of the American brand. This film promotes no illusions, examining our present state of affairs under Obama with eyes wide open. At once disillusioning, the film inspires and offers a great message of hope in it’s evocative finale and excellent choice of music. It also points to the most immediate alternative for building a new, directly democratic and liberated world within the shell of the old (workplace democracy). For OWS, the film exemplifies the movement’s bi-partisan critique of the status quo, its deep rejection of surface-level reforms or solutions, and the deep insight that comes from waking up to the way the world really is.
3. Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
”Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story comes home to the issue he’s been examining throughout his career: the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans (and by default, the rest of the world). But this time the culprit is much bigger than General Motors, and the crime scene far wider than Flint, Michigan. From Middle America, to the halls of power in Washington, to the global financial epicenter in Manhattan, Michael Moore will once again take film goers into uncharted territory. With both humor and outrage, Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story explores a taboo question: What is the price that America pays for its love of capitalism?”
While Inside Job takes a more impersonal and conservative overview of the financial collapse, Michael Moore brings it in close to examine many of the personal stories of the financial fallout - the human, emotional side of the story. While many people have a prejudice against Moore, and this might limit the film’s potential reach, this is undoubtedly his best film yet, and brilliant on its own terms, regardless. Surprise and disgust, sadness, anger and empathy are mixed in equally with humor, insight, and inspiring examples of potential solutions that are being implemented now. Watching this post-OWS is rather surreal - direct mentions of the 99% vs the 1%, activists occupying foreclosed homes and workers taking control of their factories until their demands for just remuneration are met - it couldn’t sum up the story that led to OWS more perfectly.
4. Inside Job (2010) (link fixed)
“2010 Oscar Winner for Best Documentary, ‘Inside Job’ provides a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia. It was made on location in the United States, Iceland, England, France, Singapore, and China.”
Although it’s the narrowest in scope, Inside Job goes deep into the criminal corruption, policies, and culture that caused the financial crisis, which is most commonly understood to be the premise of OWS. Examining the period of Wall St. deregulation that started in 1980 and then closely looking at the housing bubble and crash of 2008, Inside Job builds up the facts and detailed analysis of this single event, which provides documentation and support for why so many Americans are rightly pissed off and now taking to the streets en masse. For this reason, Inside Job is likely the best introduction to the subject, and builds the foundation upon which more radical conclusions about our economic system can be drawn.
5. The Secret of Oz (2010)
“What’s going on with the world’s economy? Foreclosures are everywhere, unemployment is skyrocketing - and this may only be the beginning. Could it be that solutions to the world’s economic problems could have been embedded in the most beloved children’s story of all time, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”? The yellow brick road (the gold standard), the emerald city of Oz (greenback money), even Dorothy’s silver slippers (changed to ruby slippers for the movie version) were powerful symbols of author L. Frank Baum’s belief that the people - not the big banks — should control the quantity of a nation’s money.”
Second to Moving Forward, Secret of Oz goes the deepest into the systemic unsustainability of our fractional-reserve monetary system. Examining the historic fight against central banks over the centuries (it was the prime cause of the American Revolution) and how these banks actually destabilize markets and enslave whole nations in debt, we learn how the Federal Reserve and other private banks today represent the greatest affront to our national sovereignty. As long as we allow private banks to create money out of nothing (and loan money to our government at interest), the central banks will always have the power to undo whatever gains we make politically or economically. The film makers do not advocate a return to a gold-based standard. Their two-step solution is quite simple, and if enacted, gives us the greatest prospects for a sustainable future.
6. (Tie) Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Politics (2009) - I’m watching this one right now!
“The definitive documentary explaining the influence of money on politics by Jonathan Shockley. The film is based on Thomas Ferguson’s book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems.
Golden Rule does an excellent job of exposing several myths behind the terms free market, capitalism, socialism, and democracy. For instance, since the “golden age of capitalism” in the 1950s, productivity has more than doubled, and yet wages have stayed the same and most people are working more hours, not less. At the same time, all of our productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital (the 1%). If capitalist markets benefited all people and not just the top 1% then most Americans today would be able to support a family on one income and work only half the year. Most people would agree that more leisure time and a middle-class standard of living would be progress, yet capitalist markets prevent this. Labor must keep working harder and harder to compete against other firms or else they’ll be out-competed, meanwhile the full value of their work is robbed to create “profit” for the owners. True free markets do not require coercion, and our capitalist system has always relied on the state’s use of force to maintain the wealth and power inequalities between labor and capital.
Another example 60 minutes in: both America and Stalin’s Russia has called his regime a socialist system, but for different reasons. America called Stalin’s dictatorship a socialist system because it wanted to defame and demonize socialism. Stalin called his government socialist because that was a popular and celebrated term in Europe, despite totalitarian control having nothing to do with true, democratic socialism. In truth, as Noam Chomsky points out, the people of Russia had no control over the means of production and were essentially slaves. It would be the same as if Stalin came to power in America, created a fascist police state, used coercive force to protect criminal banks, evict people unjustly from their homes, suppress protest and break up unions, then lavished massive subsidies on big companies, gave tax breaks to the rich and allowed many corporations like GE to pay nothing in taxes, and then proudly called this a free-market system. This is the hypocrisy of our own country, which is victimized by our own form of propaganda as profound as the propaganda of Stalin’s Russia or communist China.
7. The Corporation (2003)
“The Corporation is today’s dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future of the modern business corporation and the increasing role it plays in society and our everyday lives.”
Beyond Wall St and beyond the financial collapse is a problem much deeper than traditional left/right discussions about the proper amount of government regulation of markets. Deeper than that is the basic nature and laws that govern what a corporation is. Since 1886, corporations have been considered people under the law, conferring them the same rights as breathing, flesh and blood humans. These rights (as the film documents) give enormous power to corporations, making them far more powerful than many countries. Most people woke up to this problem with Citizens United, when the Supreme court decided money equals speech, and thus corporations have a 1st amendment right to spend unlimited amounts of cash on democratic elections.
While corporations have dominated society for over 100 years, this last transparent power-grab was obviously too much for most people to handle. The silver lining of this move was that it has prompted a strong national push-back from groups like Move to Amend and others, which are calling for a constitutional amendment to revoke corporate personhood. This has been one of the most popular demands of OWS from early on, and yeah, I’m not surprised the media isn’t repeating this one.
8. Zeitgeist: Moving Forward (2011)
“Moving Forward presents the case for a needed transition out of the current socioeconomic monetary paradigm which governs the entire world society. The film aims to filter out issues of cultural relativism and traditional ideology so that we can examine the core, empirical life ground attributes of human and social survival, extrapolating those immutable natural laws to propose a new sustainable social paradigm called a Resource-Based Economy.”
Of special interest to OWS is the middle section of the film, which critiques the fundamental problems inherent in our monetary/market-based system, and which offers one of the deepest analyses of the big picture perspective on the global crisis yet seen. It also proposes a logical alternative to the monetary paradigm, if we were to rethink how our system works from the ground up. The film asks: what would a true civilization look like - a world without war, hierarchy, or poverty? Would competition really be the driving force of a civilized society, or would it be cooperation?
“John Pilger travels to many third world countries to investigate the devastating results of loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). This film shows how many wars today are not carried out at the barrel of a gun, but by the monetary policies of global banking institutions. Instead of bombs, it has been discovered that debt is a far more powerful weapon to control and maintain the power of global economic interests. It turns out that the “structural-adjustment” policies of neo-liberal economics are even more deadly than nerve gas and many other weapons of war. This documentary backs up many of the claims made by John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.”
All of John Pilger’s films are excellent and worth watching. The oldest pick in this list explores some of the older history of our economic policies to reveal some truly paradigm-disturbing insights. The film highlights the fact that the problems addressed by OWS are not new by any measure, but are rooted deeply in a global system which has, as a matter of policy and design, consistently robbed the third world to enrich the first. This is a hard truth to accept, but Pilger backs up his claims with world-class journalism and professionalism.
10. The Yes Men Fix The World (2009) (link fixed)
“The Yes Men Fix the World is a screwball true story about two gonzo political activists who, posing as top executives of giant corporations, lie their way into big business conferences and pull off the world’s most outrageous pranks.”
This film provides the most comical look at the culture of greed that pervades the corporate world. It also critiques the conventional wisdom of trickle-down economics. Keeping the tone lighthearted and quite funny throughout, this is a great film to introduce the subject with.