Occupy film fails to identify most important issues

Today is the second anniversary of the Occupy Movement of 2011, and despite divided opinions on the protest, a little perspective on it seems warranted. It was a social justice movement that relied on grassroot movement. Fittingly, 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film, the documentary on the protest, takes an equally collective approach.

Featuring interviews with the initial supporters, participants, documentarians, critics and a member of the “hacktivist” organization Anonymous, the film attempts to represent the different ideas and motives behind the movement and show its significance for today. Ultimately, though, in much the same way the actual movement’s message became cluttered and ambiguous, the documentary, too, suffers from the same problem.

It starts off with a montage of demonstrations similar to the Occupy protests that have occurred around the world. These demonstrations are tinged with a sense of irony though, as illustrated by the clips showing the promise of the Arab Spring of 2011. The film never gets around to actually reflecting on how other, more focused movements can result in unexpected, even disastrous outcomes though (Libya, Egypt and especially Syria).

Once the documentary moves to Zuccotti Park, the original location for Occupy Wall Street, the message of the film becomes a bit clearer, but only because the issues it brings up are something most people read in headlines during the protests.

It makes a point to show how the free market was systematically manipulated by the corporate infrastructure, that has created a class conflict that continues to grow today.

The documentary makes a point to show that the activists weren’t just protesting the big banks and their contribution to the market crash of 2008, but the fact that they have had record profits as the middle class struggles to get full-time jobs. It’s not just the student loan crisis, or the severe financial penalties placed on Americans struggling to keep up with their inflated rent. The film wants to show that America is in a very serious and important moment in history, and these are things that citizens have not only a right to know, but the right to to act upon it.

The severity of the issues that the Occupy Movement tried to bring to the forefront seems to only undermine the overall structure that the demonstration took. That’s not to say that it wasn’t commendable that the movement tried to take the approach that it did.

The documentary does a good job of showing that it wasn’t just a bunch of old hippies and delusional lazy liberals (it has a section bringing up the skepticism and bias that the major news channels had about the movement) but that it was a true collaboration stretching across several generations and professions. The sense of community is shown as the movement’s strength, but the film brings up that the lack of a hierarchy or true sense of organization made it difficult to get their point across.

Footage was taken from a multitude of filmmakers and participants — the film lists four directors and six co-directors and had contributions from nearly a hundred different collaborators — and through this we’re able to have a direct viewpoint of the first days in Zuccotti Park, the Brooklyn Bridge incident where more than 700 people were arrested, the infamous showdown at Occupy Oakland and the nationwide crackdown.

This idea of a decentralized documentary was perhaps appropriate to show for a decentralized social movement, but, it was unable to overcome the disjointed feeling of the myriad of voices it attempted to capture. The film has some powerful segments, even if it’s essentially preaching to the choir, but it doesn’t really bring anything new or revealing to the table. It doesn’t come to a direct consensus about what made the Occupy Movement different from the other movements happening across the world or what impact it had.

The most interesting tidbits of the film are the ones that don’t actually involve the Movement; it almost undermines itself by presenting how impaired they were by their own unclear message, in spite of the power of the issues they were trying to represent. It feels like 12 fascinating mini-documentaries smashed into one cluttered documentary.

It’s been nearly two years since the demonstrations waned, and we’re still left deciding what, if anything, they accomplished. It can be argued that the movement did bring this dialogue to the forefront, which is commendable, but certain segments of the film make the brutally honest point that bringing up the dialogue is not enough to deal with the issues. The recent election year certainly didn’t seem to be  influenced by Occupy Wall Street and, again, that point feels like a missed opportunity on the part of the filmmakers.

Though 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film accurately captures the collective spirit of the movement, it fails to contribute a truly objective perspective. The film doesn’t present nearly enough context or suggestions about for dealing with the issues at home. It’ll certainly speak to people who deal with these issues, but it leaves the viewer with no resolution.

Follow Robert on Twitter @rcalcagno3