The Yes Men Fix The World: film review

I reviewed this new comedy / politics documentary film for the BBC's Sunday Sequence programme, along with actor and writer Dan Gordon (you can listen again, here, 22mins 30secs in).

I'd never heard of the Yes Men before now – although I had heard about one of their stunts. They were among a group of activists who created and distributed 100,000 copies of a fake edition of the New York Times, with headlines and stories that you might just want to read: 'Iraq War Ends', 'Court Indicts Bush on High Treason Charge', 'United Nations Unanimously Passes Weapons Ban', 'Torture, Rendition “Not Such Good Ideas After All”'. That sort of thing.

The paper didn't really fool anyone for long. But, for at least one day, it offered New Yorkers a vision of a world arguably rather better than the one we have created hitherto.

The Yes Men's normal modus operandi is to set up a spoof company website (normally for those companies they deem to be the dirtiest players in a world of filthy lucre). Then they wait for gullible journalists and corporate conference organisers to invite them to speak on behalf of that company.

In 2004, the two pranksters hit the motherlode when BBC News invited them, on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, to come on air to speak to 300 million viewers worldwide. The 1984 explosion at the chemical plant in India has acused perhaps 20,000 deaths and left over 100,000 needing lifelong medical care.

The factory operator, Union Carbide, escaped without criminal prosecutions and with a pittance of compensation. The Yes Men mean to hold the company, and their new owners, Dow – to account. Going on air as Dow's 'Jude Finisterra', Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum (not his real name either!) tells BBC's global audience that at long last Dow is owning up and will offer $12 billion in restitution. The news brought a temporary $2 billion slide in Dow's share value and a new spotlight on the company's role in Bhopal.

The Yes Men Fix The World is firmly on Michael Moore / Mark Thomas territory, although it probably generates fewer laughs than either and only hits the political bullseye on a few occasions. For instance, highlighting the US Dept of Housing policy of demolishing perfectly good public housing in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina so that private developers can profit by replacing them with more more upmarket residences.

The Yes Men probably try to do too much in this single film, highlighting too many pranks, too many corporate malfactors. The Dow story is strong enough on its won and the visit to Bhopal showed how the tragedy continues, but so does the struggle for justice.

The Yes Men movie isn't perfect, but it is worth seeing, is great fun and is a reminder of why we do the Amnesty stuff we do.

At the QFT in Belfast from later this week. Check your local listings for other screenings…

Meanwhile, help Amnesty take on oil giant Shell, as we campaign to bring justice to the Niger Delta. Take action here.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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