The original award-winning documentary, The Corporation, was released back in 2003 to rave reviews at Sundance and alike. Directed by Mark Archbar and Jennifer Abbot, and based on a book by Joel Bakan, it analysed the world’s biggest corporations using the same symptoms we use to identify human psychopaths – from reckless disregard of safety to continual lying to deceive for profit – only to uncover scarily similar tendencies.
17 years on, Bakan has stepped up into the director’s chair alongside Abbot to adapt his new book, modified for the current climate – this time focusing on the recent push for corporations to become more socially aware, and specifically whether or not we can trust them.
It’s impressive that they managed to create something so relevant given the times. When so much is happening around the world and film production has almost entirely ceased, the pair has somehow conjured up a fully visioned documentary that deals with real-time events like the COVID pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
What makes The New Corporation a little overwhelming to begin with, is that the over-arching theme of corporate power vs responsibility is so enormous. It feels like they had a tough time deciding where to start and what direction to take it, but thanks to the playbook-style format it eventually comes together quite well.
It’s empowering to see documentary filmmakers unafraid of treading on toes, with no major corporation or government too big to target – from oil mogul BP promoting themselves as pro climate change and then causing mass death via ocean spills (on more than one occasion) to Donald Trump personally asking for thanks after the national bank JP Morgan had a good quarter, or social media conglomerates wielding more power than most countries.
There’s also a large segment dedicated to the privatisation of schools, war, water and science, which we’ve all probably noticed happening but haven’t fully-realised the long-term repercussions of.
Sadly, the Australian government also receives a lot of attention in the film, specifically for the Morrison government’s involvement with the Adani mines and the impact it could have on wildlife and indigenous land. Thankfully, the saving grace for us is the national protests that erupted and (so-far) have prevented it from happening.
This also ties into the closing message, which looks at the different social and political movements happening in America and around the globe right now. It’s interesting to see that whether left or right wing, there are both activists and aggressors, and ultimately the conflict between them is distracting the rest of us, while these psychopathic corporations simply carry on with their many exploitations.
The downside of making something so relevant is that it’s clearly been put together quickly. The editing is clunky, and they seem to have re-hashed a lot of the graphics from the predecessor, which at almost two-decades old is outdated.
Similarly, at some points, news headlines overlay on a related video, with people narrating over the top, meaning you have to try and absorb three different pieces of information at once – it’s hard to keep up.
All in all, the theme and subjects covered here are mainstream at the minute, so you could probably learn just as much from reliable news sources. However, if you’re looking for a 100-minute overview that ties it all together and will make you just as angry, then it’s well worth the watch.