A film as messy as the movement it tries to portray, “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film” possesses energy, passion and about a dozen docs inside it yearning to break free. A little late to the party — better documentaries on Wall Street and hacktivism have already been done — the pic nevertheless achieves a kind of catharsis through sheer volume: Cataloguing the financial crimes, police misconduct, economic disparity and constitutional crises of the past several years makes for an emotional experience that will appeal to young auds in particular. Theatrical will be limited; will corporate TV take the plunge?
Made by a purported 100 filmmakers — nine directors are credited — the film also had a dozen editors (though only three credited as full editors), who manage to make the untidy, unfocused subject matter cohere stylishly if shapelessly. Rather than produce a portrait strictly of the Occupy movement, which in late summer 2011 took over Zuccotti Park in Manhattan’s Financial District and sparked similar protests in hundreds of cities across the country, the filmmakers attempt to summarize all the issues that angered the thousands of the movement’s participants, in New York and elsewhere.
But it’s an undertaking that’s simply too great, unless one is making a kind of primer for the uninformed, which isn’t that farfetched an idea: New media was a huge part of the success of the Occupy movement, and much of the content in “99%” (if not the actual footage) has been on new media for months. In fact, some might find the docu an almost overwhelming litany of recent public crimes and public protests.
Yet there are entire movies that could be made using some of the footage here: on the militarization of local police across America, and their neglect of constitutional niceties in quashing protests (the scenes of infamous UC Davis police officer Lt. John Pike, and his felonious pepper-spraying of protestors, would feature prominently); on the mechanics, psychology and traditions of mass-resistance organizations (“99%” gets in and out of this area with irritating speed); on the unprosecuted crimes of the banking and mortgage industries (indeed, films have been made about this). And there are personal stories here that provide an emotional connection to what is often a misunderstood movement. In lumping them all together under one title, the filmmakers work against their better interests: Confronting the almost existential issues of national economic policy, and then telescoping in on an angry and semi-articulate OWS member, has a trivializing effect.
Several well-informed talking heads from a wide range of backgrounds appear: Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, one of the top commentators on the economic crisis; author Naomi Wolf, who pulls no punches regarding the OWS philosophy; Richard Wilkinson, a British researcher into social inequities; and Hero Vincent, one of the OWS participants, whose firsthand accounts of various NYPD outrages include officer Anthony Bologna’s unprovoked pepper-spraying of young women on a Manhattan sidewalk. While these people help the docu come alive, in the end, “99%” collapses under its embarrassment of riches.
Tech credits are surprisingly good, given the variety of sources from which the footage presumably came.