A complex political movement gets admirably cogent treatment in Corey Ogilvie’s “Occupy the Movie.” This docu about the popular protest that started on Wall Street, and quickly spread to many corners of the globe, limits its scrutiny primarily to the chronology of related events in its Manhattan birthplace. While the approach means the pic doesn’t fully address numerous aspects of an uprising that eventually suffered from too broad an agenda, it also avoids the scattershot overreaching of the Sundance-preemed, team-directed “99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film.” Prospects are good for niche theatrical release as well as ancillary exposure.
The chaptered structure starts in September 2011, as fury boiled over at how little had changed since the reckless, unethical behavior of the financial sector resulted in widespread home foreclosures and 2008’s recession-triggered economic crisis. Even more galling to many was the Emergency Economic Stabilization Bill, which allocated $700 billion in bailout funds to precisely the institutions that had caused the collapse. Viewing this as federally sanctioned redistribution of wealth upward, in a society whose rich/poor gap was already widening drastically, activists organized mass protests on Wall Street itself to highlight, as one puts it, “a toxic relationship between big business and media and our government” that allowed “banksters” to use ordinary citizens’ resources like chips at a gambling casino.
This public outcry, coming after years of grassroots conservative activism and relatively little organized liberal response, along with similar discontent over leaders in the European Union, caught on like wildfire, even as it was swiftly caricatured and dismissed by many. High-profile protest camps sprang up around the globe, often greeted by heavy-handed police reprisals.
While chronicling the travails of Occupy as a physical presence in New York, the pic explores the larger issues: the call to separate consumer banking from investment banking; a young generation’s fear that its financial future is being systematically stolen; the rise of money as speech via Citizens United, and other court decisions that benefit corporations; a conglomeratized media landscape’s reasons for discrediting the movement; and the lapses in accountability that can allow a “too big to fail” giant like JP Morgan to make a multibillion-dollar blunder in botched trading, yet see its executives suffer no real consequences.
On a more intimate level, we glimpse the toll commitment to the movement takes on the personal lives of the most dedicated activists, as well as the ideological rift between Occupy’s “reformists” and “revolutionaries” — the latter notably including the anarchist Black Block faction, a magnet for bad press.
All this is vividly laid out in a mix of news, phonecam and interview footage encompassing on-the-ground activists and familiar voices of the left, including Cornel West and Noam Chomsky. Simple animation is occasionally utilized to illustrate a complex point. While “Occupy the Movie” is undeniably sympathetic to the movement it examines, Ogilvie (“Streets of Plenty”) wisely maintains a neutral stance, letting individuals rather than the pic itself convey the fervor — and to some extent eventual disappointment — of the movement’s ideas and impact.
Without being overslick, assembly is first-rate.