The short of it...
Mark Achbar is one of a wave of non-fiction feature filmmakers reaching large international audiences through mainstream theatres, TV, DVD, and the internet. He co-produced and co-directed the two most successful Canadian feature documentaries ever made: MANUFACTURING CONSENT: NOAM CHOMSKY AND THE MEDIA and THE CORPORATION. His films popularize radical critiques, win dozens of prestigious awards, and gross millions at the box-office. Achbar's output as Executive Producer includes: Velcrow Ripper's FIERCE LIGHT; Kevin McMahon's WATERLIFE; Denis Delestrac's PAX AMERICANA AND THE WEAPONIZATION OF SPACE; Fredrik Gertten's BANANAS (development support); and Sam Bozzo's BLUE GOLD: WORLD WATER WARS.
The long of it...
Whether following Noam Chomsky around the world, chronicling a sex change, or interviewing Fortune 500 CEOs, for over three decades Mark Achbar's filmmaking passion has been with the players and the politics in the struggle for human rights and social change. His penchant for quirky visuals and intelligent humour combine to make complex ideas compelling and entertaining. Achbar is one of a new wave of non-fiction feature filmmakers reaching large international audiences through mainstream theatres, TV, DVD, and the internet.
After graduating from Syracuse University's Fine Arts Film Program, Achbar worked in many capacities on independently produced films and videos on issues ranging from nuclear lunacy, poverty, and East Timor, to the media, U.S. hegemony and corporate power.
Achbar's three-year contribution to Peter Watkin's 14 hour epic, THE JOURNEY, led to his collaboration with Peter Wintonick on their first feature documentary, MANUFACTURING CONSENT Noam Chomsky and the Media. The film won 22 awards, played theatrically in over 300 cities, and was aired on TV in over 30 countries. It broke all box office records for a Canadian theatrically-released feature documentary.
While collaborating with editor Jennifer Abbott to create TWO BRIDES AND A SCALPEL: DIARY OF A LESBIAN MARRIAGE, a video diary Canada's first legally married lesbians, Achbar was developing THE CORPORATION with author and law professor Joel Bakan. Bakan wrote the film and book, while Achbar directed, produced and executive-produced the film. Abbott later joined the team as editor and co-director. THE CORPORATION won 26 awards, 10 of them audience awards, including Sundance. It was released theatrically in 20 countries, grossed over six million dollars at the box office, sold hundreds of thousands of DVDs and has been downloaded well over a million times. It is widely used in high school and university courses.
The Corporation's success triggered a Telefilm-financed “performance envelope” which set aside funds for the exclusive use of Achbar’s production company, Big Picture Media Corporation. This thrust him into an unusual position. Whereas previously he had to beg for three years to finance a film, he found himself controlling more documentary film investment money than some of the broadcasters he used to beg from. Conditions applied, however, and it was impossible for him to use the funds for a project of his own, but he was able to participate in the financing and, in the role of Executive Producer, the shaping of 10 projects by other filmmakers, including four, million-dollar-plus theatrical feature documentaries:
Velcrow Ripper's FIERCE LIGHT: WHEN SPRIT MEETS ACTION winner of the audience award for most popular Canadian documentary at its world premiere in the Vancouver International Film Festival. It had a successful theatrical run across Canada, playing as long as eight weeks in some cities. It's now out on DVD through E1.
Kevin McMahon's WATERLIFE, an elegant, tragic, deeply moving film about water which focuses on the Great Lakes (which contain 20% of the world's fresh water). Waterlife premiered at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto and won the Special Jury Prize for Best Documentary. The activist site is: www.ourwaterlife.com It is also out on DVD through NFB.
Denis Delestrac's PAX AMERICANA & THE WEAPONIZATION OF SPACE will be theatrically released in Canada by Kinosmith, and will be represented internationally by Films Transit. It premiered at RIDM in Montreal and IDFA in Amsterdam, and won Best Documentary at Whistler.
Fredrik Gertten's controversial BANANAS is about more than pesticide-poisoned banana workers suing a gigantic transnational corporation for health problems including sterility; it’s about the elusiveness of the truth. One judge ruled for the workers, a subsequent judge ruled against. Dole sued the filmmaker, but later withdrew.
In production is Mathieu Roy's and Harold Crook's A SHORT HISTORY OF PROGRESS inspired by the best-selling Ronald Wright book and Massey Lectures radio series.
In development are: Oliver Hockenhull's A PERFECT PILL: FROM NEURONS TO NIRVANA about the revival of legitimate medical research into the healing potential of presently illegal drugs: psychedelics like LSD, and Ecstasy; Barb Mainguy's MODERN MADNESS, about alternative treatments and mad people's rights; Jill Sharpe's SEX, BREATH AND DEATH, about the universal search for transcendence; and I, FEMBOT, a film by HelloCoolWorld's Katherine Dodds, a brash, feminist take on the future of robotics.
In 2008 Achbar also Executive Produced BLUE GOLD: WORLD WATER WARS, a feature documentary made by American filmmaker, Sam Bozzo, based on the Canadian book by Maude Barlow and Tony Clark. It won six awards including two audience awards. For the story of Achbar and Bozzo’s unusual web-based collaboration on this film, click here.
To book Mark for a speaking engagement, please contact Evil Twin Booking.
My father was a successful small businessman, so I personally have had a life of relative privilege because of the financial circumstances of my family. I've always felt an obligation to try to use that privilege responsibly. In addition, filmmakers are very fortunate here in Canada, with (diminishing) public funding available to us and editorial freedom.
My overriding objective in making The Corporation was to challenge conventional wisdom about the role of the corporation in society, to make the commonplace seem strange, to alienate viewers from the normalcy of the dominant culture, allowing them to gain a critical distance on the corporations and the corporate culture that envelop us all.
When it comes to the fate of the Earth, I don't believe in legitimizing destructive forces by validating their perspective in a "balanced" TV-style journalism format. But I am interested in and, frankly, fascinated by the advocates of economic globalization and corporate dominance. It is essential, in a program of corporate literacy, to hear from them, and to understand their perspective. Reform comes from within as well as without, which is why The Corporation also tries to expose the institutional constraints many good people working inside big corporations struggle with.
-- Mark Achbar