Movie of the Week: “The Yes Men”

Once a week, we’ll pick out one of Fancast’s many full-length free feature films to spotlight. Sure, you’ll check out the big stuff like Mojave Moon, Adrift in Manhattan and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, but the smaller movies need shout-outs, too.

The movie of the week is The Yes Men, a documentary that made a lot of waves with its innovative skullduggery. Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno were just two guys who created a parody website about the World Trade Organization that harshly mocked its sinister globalization initiatives, but they soon began receiving invitations to important international business trade meetings by people who apparently didn’t comprehend the satire and thought they actually were the WTO. The fun started when Andy and Mike decided to capitalize on this mistake and play along with it, pretending to be unscrupulous corporate bigwigs in order to publicly humiliate them. Chris Smith and Sarah Price are the co-directors who followed them and filmed their whole ruse, and after you watch the amazing film below, you can find out more from Smith in our interview.

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Q. What would you say to someone sitting down to watch this film for the first time, knowing nothing about it?
Chris Smith: I personally like to know very little when I go into a film, so I probably wouldn’t say much other than I hope they like it.

Q. What inspired you to get involved with these people and make this film? How did you discover them?
Chris Smith: I had met Mike (one of the Yes Men) years before when he was traveling across the country putting up scenic photo spot signs in front of toxic waste sites. We kept in touch over the years and were always looking for something to collaborate on when he and Andy contacted us about shooting with them in Finland. It seemed like a great adventure, so we signed on.

Q. How did the project come together? Was it difficult to get this film off the ground and into production? What were the major challenges?
Chris Smith: Originally Mike and Andy had set up a satirical World Trade Organization website as a way to criticize the WTO. Although they hoped people would mistake the site for the real one, they never imagined people would go to the site and invite them to speak at a lecture not knowing it wasn’t the real WTO. So when that happened, they knew they had stumbled upon a great opportunity – to take their message further by bringing it to people directly. In terms of production, we had to act completely separate from The Yes Men, so it was always a challenge figuring out how to film these lectures without drawing attention to ourselves.

Q. How did they respond to being followed around by cameras?
Chris Smith: They had already been making films and videos for years, so they weren’t strangers to the camera. Their whole mission is to use media to get their message out – so we were just part of the machinery they were using to further promote themselves.

Q. What kind of repercussions have they faced for their deceptions, if any?
Chris Smith: Quite some time ago corporations learned that it’s better to ignore protesters than fight them. Once these companies try to fight them, it turns into a media event and just focuses more attention on the issues that they are trying to ignore – so in most cases there are very little repercussions.

Q. Have there been any new developments since you finished the film in the lives of Andy and Mike? Have you kept in contact with them?
Chris Smith: They actually made another film called The Yes Men Fix the World. It premiered at Sundance and Berlin in 2009 and was released in theaters and on HBO last fall. It’s great. They did their biggest stunt to date where they went on BBC World News as the Dow Chemical and apologized for the Bhopal tragedy. Amazing.

Q. Are there any particular scenes you like the best, or that you think audiences should really take note of?
Chris Smith: The lectures are all great in different ways. They really compliment each other, but the reactions from the participants are the most interesting part of the film to me. Seeing how people respond to their material is fascinating.

Q. How about any scenes that were particularly challenging to shoot?
Chris Smith: All the lectures were challenging as they were always done under precarious circumstances. Being impostors, we always would have to find our own way into the conferences.

Q. What would you say is the overall message you’d like people to take away from the film?
Chris Smith: Throughout the course of the film, The Yes Men talk about identity correction – the process of assuming someone else’s identity to tell the truth. They show that if you look the part, you can basically say anything you want and people will go along with it. Ultimately I hope people find the film entertaining and funny, but that they look further into some of the issues the Yes Men touch on and think more critically about the people running the planet.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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