Chris Smith, Dan Ollman, Sarah Price, 2004, USA, 80 mins
Andy Bilchbaum, Miek Bonnano
The long road that led to the making of The Yes Men (the movie) started in April 1999, in the middle of the US presidential campaign that would take Texas Governor George W Bush to the White House. Anti-globalisation activists, satirists and clowns Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum were approached by a computer consultant who had managed to register the Internet domain GWBush.com before Karl Rove and the rest of the Bush campaign team had spotted the potential consequences. Bonanno and Bichlbaum developed GWBush.com as an imitation of Bush's real campaign website, GeorgeWBush.com. On their website, Bonanno and Bichlbaum set out to, as they put it, 'explain in more honest terms the real reasons Bush wants to be President: to help the rich at the expense of the poor and the environment, etc.'
Bush's furious campaign staff took the threat so seriously that they complained to the Federal Elections Commission, and Bush himself responded to GWBush.com on live TV with the infamous (perhaps revelatory) remark that earned the website millions of hits in the following days: 'There ought to be limits to freedom'.
Inspired by the response to GWBush.com, Bonanno and Bilchbaum started off on a new project: Gatt.org, a parody of the World Trade Organisation website, again trying to 'clarify' the real rationale behind WTO policies. When readers began mistaking their site for the real thing and requests arrived for WTO speakers to attend international conferences, the opportunity was too good for Bonanno and Bilchbaum to miss.
The Yes Men begins at the point where the satirists are preparing to attend the first of a number of worldwide events in their disguise as WTO representatives. The results are the kind that no one would believe had there not been a camera rolling in the room. Bonanno and Bilchbaum take to the hilarious (and sometimes terrifying) extreme the patterns of thought of pro-globalisation thinkers and big corporations and give lectures on the futility of fighting slavery (market forces would have ended it anyway), the need to indoctrinate the new generations at school so that they would give up all anti-corporate feeling, and a proposed system for maximising the efficiency of elections by selling votes on-line to the highest bidder. And these are the mildest of their proposals. What speaks volumes is the uniformly matter-of-fact, unquestioning response of the 'expert' audience even as Bonanno and Bilchbaum keep turning out more and more ludicrous contents in an effort to elicit a reaction that almost never came.
The Yes Men gets a bit lengthy at times, as too much attention is given to the material preparations of the activists' pranks even as the audience is likely to be thinking of the outcome. But when Bonanno and Bilchbaum get to the real action the results are worth the wait, every time. The film throws a hard look on the ability of the so-called elite of financiers, executives and 'business experts' to preserve a minimum of intellectual alertness and integrity, even when dealing with fundamental, common-sense issues which have direct repercussions on everybody else's lives. It's also a (somewhat tragically) hilarious watch. Fortunately, The Yes Men have a whole range of projects in development, and one of their recent interventions has been to attend a conference of the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation in Chicago, USA (as detailed on their website).
The Yes Men is a whole new take on the meaning of the word 'documentary' and an eye-opener with great sequel potential.