by Sergeo Kirby, Writer and Director
Productions Grand Nord/National Film Board
of Canada, Montreal, Canada, 2006
DVD, 66:45 mins., col.
Distributors website: http://www.nfb.ca/webextension/wal-town/.
Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University
Wal-Mart is one of those subjects, like
cigarette smoking in public places, on
which many people have aggressively negative
or defensively positive opinions. WAL-TOWN
is the project of six university students,
sincere and socially conscious, who spent
two summers traveling across Canada to
visit 36 cities and towns in which theres
a Wal-Mart. They did this because they
felt the American mega-corporation destroys
local businesses and downtowns, as well
as exploits its workers and those who
labor to produce its goods, and wanted
to spread the word.
Wal-Mart is the biggest corporation in
the world, and does about 10 percent of
the retailing business in Canada, as it
employs more people than the US Army.
The video tells us that a new Wal-Mart
opens in Canada every two days, and that
an average of 1.6 Wal-Marts open every
day somewhere on the planet. After a regional
corporate talking head brags about how
the company supports small businesses
in the towns where it locates, the filmmaker
then cuts to the devastated downtown of
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. The corporation
met considerable opposition when it wanted
to locate in an area of Guelph, Ontario
not zoned for a big-box store, so the
corporation muscled its way in by pouring
cash into a local election until it got
a city council that welcomed it, wherever.
Most disturbing is the story of Jonquiére,
Quebec, where the stores 200 workers
were organized by the United Food and
Commercial Workers of Canada, a victory
made hollow when the corporation closed
the store rather than deal with a union.
For this it was found guilty of unfair
practices by the Quebec Board of Labor.
The viewer fears that fact causes no qualms
whatsoever in Wal-Marts Bentonville,
Arkansas US headquarters.
Filmmaker Sergeo Kirby is an occasional
onscreen presence in WAL-TOWN: The
Film, in the gonzo style encouraged
by Michael Moore's success. He questions
his rapidly dissipating "objectivity",
a wavering stance that costs him lucrative
journalistic side projects. As he packs
the trunk of the van, someone promises
that the second WAL-TOWN summer excursion
will feature creative "jams", culture-jamming
along the lines of the Barbie Liberation
Front, Banksy or practitioners of billboard
correction. The WAL-TOWN crew serves free
hot dogs and give free haircuts along
with their informative handouts, and perform
street theater depicting the taming of
the voracious "Beast of Bentonville".
By now Sergeo's playing circus ringleader
on camera as well as behind it, telling
the story onscreen as well as off.
Readers of this review are probably professional
people--academics, artists and technologists--who,
like this reviews author, are a
bit snobbish about the subject of Wal-Mart.
They would rather their peers caught them
picking their noses than shopping in a
Wal-Mart. The mammoth stores low
prices play a contradictory role in the
lives of people with less disposable income
and consumer choices, and the WAL-TOWN
protestors grapple with that fact. With
short glimpses of Canadas beautiful
scenery and landscape, WAL-TOWN: The
Film gives voice to sincere young
activists on a road trip to do their best
to get their countryfolk to question the
rapidly spreading big-box blot from Bentonville