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WAL-TOWN: The Film

by Sergeo Kirby, Writer and Director
Productions Grand Nord/National Film Board of Canada, Montreal, Canada, 2006
DVD, 66:45 mins., col.
Sales, $20Canadian
Distributor’s 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 there’s 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 store’s 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-Mart’s 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 review’s 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 Canada’s 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 upon it.



Updated 1st November 2007

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