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Wal-Mart: the movie

I saw Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price on Saturday. I bought the DVD and the book. The book is the tale of how the film was made, and reads rather like a journal by an observer. It strikes me that the making of the film would have been worthy of its own documentary. Now that I am well into the book I am seeing that the editing of the hours and hours of film, the structuring - the "scripting", they call it - of the parts, can be changing up until the last minute, and can change radically. The film I saw is very different from what it might have been and I find myself wondering if it is the best it could have been.

Not to say it's a bad film, because it isn't. There are striking elements in this film. Most particularly, interviews with three former Wal-Mart managers who essentially confess their sins and confirm that their practices were part of the culture. And a China segment, well into the film, about the factories that make products for Wal-Mart, an up-close-and-personal story of two young people who are forced to stay in the factories dormitories (if they move out they still have to pay the rent) and work seven days a week, long hours, for very little. I know other films have explored the exploitation of factory workers overseas but this is the first I have seen that really brings it home, that I believe many Americans can relate to. The young people are articulate and attractive. You can imagine their being your next-door neighbors. I think this is an important, very important, part of the film.

I think the best part is that this one film pulls together all of the criticisms against Wal-Mart and makes them concrete. Images stay with us longer than words, I believe, and I will keep seeing the "riverkeeper" in her boat, talking about the pollution the company allowed to go on, and I will keep seeing that one manager, incredibly real and choking on his words, and I will see the young Chinese woman who wanted more for her family - and is getting less.

Now is the time for the film to make its way from the diehard believers to those who are more skeptical. That's why I bought it, so I could share it with friends who may not think about Wal-Mart much at all yet shop there. One or two might stop to think the next time.


Judith Lautner
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January 2012


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