When it comes to Germans and the world's largest supermarket, Wal-Mart, there's little love lost. No surprise then that a new film exposing the work ethics of the US retail giant, is such a hit at this year's Berlinale.
Behind the scenes of the all-American shopping experience
The documentary, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" is a foray into the shocking reality of cost-cutting retail management, into a world where employee rights play second fiddle to just about everything, particularly the deadly serious issue of making money.
Director and producer, Robert Greenwald, who was motivated to make the film after his Wal-Mart employee neighbor revealed that the company would not offer him affordable health insurance, presents a cast of former and current wokers who collectively paint a realistic picture of the retail rogue trader.
One of Greenwald's protagonists, a young single mother of two, says that when she first started her six-year stint at Wal-Mart, she really believed in the company. But that belief turned to disbelief when she discovered that male workers with less experience were being paid more than her. And that was not all. She was forced to perform dangerous work when seven months pregnant, and hassled by management for taking leave of absence to nurse her dying parents.
Another former employee who features in the film tells of the unscrupulous code of conduct he was expected to comply with during his time as a Wal-Mart manager. From shaving hours off employee's time cards to paying off town councils which planned to block plans for new stores, Weldon Nicholson tells Greenwald "there's so much wrong with this company, I wouldn't even know where to begin."
Low wages mean low prices
Although the film director managed to assemble a diverse cast of people who have endured the worst of the supermarket giant, the hunt for characters was not without its difficulties. "We found heartbreaking stories from people who worked at Wal-Mart, but many of them were just too frightened to appear on camera," he said in a written introduction to the film. "We found businesses run out of the country, with CEOs who were terrified of talking with us on or off camera because of retaliation by Wal- Mart."
Before going public with the project, Greenwald appealed to the supermarket chain managers not to fire any current employees on the basis of their appearances in the documentary. His request was refused. He also invited management to have their say in his movie. Again they refused.
Alternative distribution plan
The Berlinale screening was by no means the first. "Wal- Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" has been an incredible hit across the US in particular. With an unusual marketing and distribution concept, which makes extensive use of modern media, the film is not restricted to a theatrical release schedule. Instead Greenwald opted for a combination of small screening hosted by local groups, and high profile screenings in the major cities across the country.
The world's largest supermarket chain
His strategy, not to mention the subject matter, has drawn massive attention from the press, and secured interest from television networks and distributors across the world. Not surprisingly, Wal-Mart has dismissed the documentary as propaganda, and has already announced plans to back a new film with the working title "Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why That Drives Some People Crazy."