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Old 14th May 2006, 20:34   #1
John Self
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Default Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

This film has just opened in the UK this weekend, and I suspect it won't make it to Belfast for a while, but I'm keen to see it, so consider this thread a heads-up to alert everyone that it may be playing in an independent cinema near you soon. And remember also that Wal-Mart owns Asda, so don't shop there obviously.

Here's Philip French's review in today's Observer.

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Polemical documentarist Robert Greenwald has made outspoken, thoroughly researched films about the Iraq war and Rupert Murdoch's Fox News channel. Now in Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, he turns his energetic attentions to the chain store whose malign influence reaches out from its 'home office' in Arkansas to every corner of the globe. Owned by the Waltons, the richest and meanest family in the world, Wal-Mart spreads misery wherever it goes. It exploits its American workers, paying them so badly and providing such poor benefits that the state has to spend billions on healthcare and welfare.

In China and Bangladesh, factory employees producing goods for Wal-Mart work seven days a week for a pittance. Every time a branch opens, local businesses are crushed and downtown areas are depressed. It has scant regard for the environment, and the fortune it spends on surveillance is not to protect customers threatened with robbery and rape in their car parks, but to keep an eye on its staff.

The movie is often chillingly funny and ends on a section showing how some communities have got together to repel Wal-Mart, among them Inglewood, California, where a redoubtable Afro-Latina priest, the Reverend Altagracia Perez of the Holy Faith Episcopal church, led a successful campaign. And while the company can always field a battery of expensive lawyers, the courts have given numerous judgments against it across America. 'Is there something in the water in Arkansas that makes perjury OK?' one female judge asked.

The issues dealt with are global, but in case you think they're America's problems, the film has a sequence on the threat to one of London's oldest street markets presented by Newham Council's proposed sale of a plum site to Wal-Mart's local company, Asda.
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Old 14th May 2006, 20:39   #2
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Saw this review, JS, and must admit I am intrigued. I am guessing it is slightly more in depth that the fluffy Supersize Me and more interesting than the dull Farenehit 9/11?
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Old 14th May 2006, 20:40   #3
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

This is one I'd like to play in our local cinemas - we have a local Asda (25 mins away) and tons of people here think it's great and cheap to do their shopping there and of course, get George clothing. Someone suggested we purchase some things for a children's workshop there (at a very cheap price of course) and everyone concurred and, feeling a real self-righteous moralistic prat, I felt I had to say something and suggested an alternative as well as saying why. Most people hadn't read anything about Wal-Mart owning Asda or about their business practices but they weren't that bothered either.
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Old 14th May 2006, 20:43   #4
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

That is a tricky one, Col, isn't it? For a voluntary group I guess there is an imperative to get the best value for money, but then there is also a need to ensure that the money doesn't eventually end up with unpleasant people!

Perhaps the outcome was the best - you raised awareness of the issue a little, and the kids group got some cheap gear.
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Old 14th May 2006, 20:54   #5
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Here's an interview with the director, from the Daily Telegraph.

If veteran director Robert Greenwald's new film were a shop, it would be a cornershop, a small emporium inspiring fierce loyalty among its customers as it challenged the might of such sprawling "superstores" as Mission: Impossible III and the latest X-Men adventure.

Many workers were afraid to appear in Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is a remarkable film in many ways. It was made on a micro-budget, and initially distributed via a week-long "première", which saw 8,000 copies dispatched to colleges, church halls and private homes across the United States. It was watched by more than three quarters of a million people in those seven days.


However, in the view of its director, the film's greatest achievement is that it has helped to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of Wal-Mart workers.

Greenwald, who has directed and/or produced more than 50 made-for-TV and theatrical films (including 1980's Xanadu, starring Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly) came upon his subject - the questionable behaviour of the world's biggest retailer - almost by accident. He says he discovered that a neighbour, who worked for Wal-Mart, was unable to afford the company's health insurance scheme; then, a few days later, he read that the Walton family, who founded the company, was worth $100 billion.

"I thought it was a mistake," he says, "that they meant $100 million; but it was true. That's when the idea for the film kicked in: the classic underdog story and obscene amounts of money being made."

The more he learned about the company, the more his eyes widened in disbelief. In addition to the health insurance issue, the film makes serious allegations about compulsory unpaid overtime, environmental pollution, the devastating impact on small, independent retailers whenever a new "supercenter" opens, and the number of crimes, ranging from theft to abduction and murder, committed in Wal-Mart car parks. (They had CCTV cameras all over the place but nobody monitoring the screens.)

Making the film was much tougher and more complex than anything Greenwald had ever attempted. "We had to find people who were not afraid to go public. What I hadn't counted on was the incredible culture of fear.

"We found heartbreaking stories from people who worked at Wal-Mart, but many of them were just too frightened to appear. We found businesses with CEOs who were terrified of talking to us. I asked for a pledge from Wal-Mart not to fire anyone who co-operated with us. They refused."

Then there was the problem of finding financial backers. "Two high-profile donors both pulled out, scared that Wal-Mart might, in retaliation, refuse to carry any of their films."

When, finally, the film was completed, Greenwald braced himself for Wal-Mart's reaction. "The way they initially responded to the attacks was completely and totally defensive and self-serving," he says. "But, since the film came out, it has been extraordinarily gratifying to see every week some new policy announcement about something that they had previously said was perfect and didn't need improvement.

"They have announced a big environmental effort, and a whole thing about health care. They have also said that they are going to help local stores when they move into a community. We need to see if it is all just PR, or if it has real substance. Either way, I have to pinch myself some mornings to see that this multi-billion-dollar corporation is responding."

The film has achieved what it has, says Greenwald, because of its connection to a growing social movement, one that its mould-breaking distribution tapped into.

"That took a huge amount of effort," he says. "And it is not a model to make money. We had 750,000 people at 8,000 screenings, but they didn't pay nine or 10 dollars each to see the film: a church bought one copy and showed it to 300 people, a student dorm bought one copy and had 50 people see it. However, from the point of view of reaching people, it is absolutely great. Would I have preferred to see it go straight to TV? No, I wouldn't. When people see the film in a group, their mindset is different. There's going to be discussion afterwards, and, in some cases, they are going to take action."

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, which got an almost unheard-of post-DVD theatrical release in the US, is the latest addition to that burgeoning genre - the "political" documentary feature (see also: Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, The Fog of War and Super Size Me).
Greenwald, who has also turned his spotlight on the myth of WMD in Iraq and the political bias of the Fox News TV channel, is clear about why cinemagoers have a growing appetite for "the facts".

"The issues have never been more complex," he says. "At the same time, the media have got more simplistic and reduced the amount of time they give to issues of substance. You can't explain health care in a one-minute clip on the evening news - or terrorism, or foreign policy, or the age issue. There's a real hunger for information now."
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Old 14th May 2006, 20:58   #6
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

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Originally Posted by Wavid
That is a tricky one, Col, isn't it? For a voluntary group I guess there is an imperative to get the best value for money, but then there is also a need to ensure that the money doesn't eventually end up with unpleasant people!

Perhaps the outcome was the best - you raised awareness of the issue a little, and the kids group got some cheap gear.
Well, I was able to find the same items locally at roughly the same price, and there was sufficient funding to allow for something more than rock bottom prices. Since it was me flogging to wherever to do the purchasing, it was thankfully cheaper and easier to get the things where we live.
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Old 15th May 2006, 12:56   #7
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Wal-Mart is by far the cheapest supermarket where we live. And having in mind German sensitivity to social injustice, I'm sure that by now there would have been a massive uproar against them, were their employees treated any less fairly than the employees of any other supermarket chain. But I have heard / read nothing. On the other hand, the health care and welfare systems in Germany are incomparably more humane and advanced than those in the States. For instance, public health insurance is obligatory for everyone and the employer must cover at least two thirds of its price (same goes for social security and pension funds) even if you're on minimum wage.

The reason why Wal-Mart is so popular here is that due to the economic crisis and high unemployment rate, an increasing number of people cannot afford to be choosey when it comes to groceries and petrol. And Wal-Mart has no real alternative - other big supermarket chains are significantly more expensive, and competitors like Aldi offer a very limited range of products (especially when it comes to fresh fruit and veg).

It's true that they pollute the environment, I've noticed that straight away - there are no recycling bins and the plastic bags are given away for free en masse. No rapes or murders on the parking lot as yet; I suspect this is partly because the parking space is packed with people throughout the working hours and partly because the crime rate here is about fifteen times lower than in the States. But somehow I don't think that the German working class (or rather the non-working class) will be motivated to boycott Wal-Mart just as a sign of solidarity with their American employees.

I think it's important to make political documentaries about the capitalist mafia of the world. They do raise awareness, this one has obviously achieved what it was aiming for, at least to an extent. But I also think that they're more important in America where there's a lot more opportunity for foul play than in Europe where the hidden-camera style debunking documentaries are the traditional juicy feature of prime-time television (well, in Germany they are - wouldn't know about elsewhere) and are really able of seriously damaging the businesses of the less ethical corporations.
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Old 29th May 2007, 13:26   #8
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

I just watched this and it's pretty good. A bit manipulative in the way that a lot of sob stories are laid at Wal-Mart's door without any original pro Wal-Mart interviews on hand for a riposte, but I have no idea if such were sought out and refused or simply not looked for - and so what? This isn't about offering an even ground so much as levelling a seriously uneven one. In any case there is conference footage and mainstream interview material with their CEO, all with a very positive spin of course, so they are at least represented by their own words.

By contrast there are a lot of employees, former employees, small business-people, community members and social watchdoggers on hand to describe just a disgraceful set of practices. Thankfully there is no Michael Moorish figure to ham it up and blunt the point, and while towards the end it all goes a bit (sorry Beth, JA, RG, etc!) Real-American-Hero, complete with anthemic "Victory" song like some political broadcast (or more accurately, like all the Wal-Mart ads you get treated to en route), you come away with the definite impression that the facts are not being manipulated just in order to abuse something the film-maker hates.

for the film, for the message.
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Old 29th May 2007, 20:55   #9
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

Great thread, having just seen it. Wal-Mart in Germany? Wow. I'll agree that the monstrosity that is Wal-Mart does appear to be attempting to make changes to better the lives of their employees. Maybe they are growing a bit of social conscience as well as a result of this and other commentaries. Maybe it's all just smoke and mirrors for image sake. They are cheaper, but many times it's just by a few pennies and just not worth the trouble to shop there unless it's a specialty item that can't be found elsewhere. I shop everywhere but W-M, because I'm afraid that they might end up the only game in town. I'm going to have to watch this. Nou, that American-Hero-bit probably makes me sicker than it does you. No worries.

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Old 29th May 2007, 21:55   #10
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Default Re: Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price

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Heheh Nou, that American-Hero-bit probably makes me sicker than it does you! No worries.
AaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiI don't think so. Only joking! In fact I looked at that sentence and wondered if anyone would have the slightest idea what I was going on about...

"No worries"? I think we should have sat you and Kimberley further apart in the pub, young lady.
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