The Wal-mart documentary had its genesis in the doctor's office.
Strange, but true. I was having a routine check-up for some fairly mundane complaint. As the exam went on and various tests were ordered, I began to mentally calculate how much the bill for this visit was going to come to. But I was thinking of a friend of mine -- a hard-working salt-of-the-earth kind of guy -- whose recent health crisis had severely strained his family's resources. He did not have the kind of high-quality health coverage that I had through the Directors Guild.
Days later, with my friend's situation still on my mind, I met a new neighbor who was a Wal-Mart sales clerk. He worked there full time but could not afford the health care plan they offered. Wait a minute, I thought. This clerk worked full time for a company whose profit was ten BILLION dollars annually, and they did not provide health care? But it got worse. The clerk said that the company had very kindly advised him how to apply for Medicare, so he could get public aid. So taxpayers were paying for Wal-mart employees to get medical care! I really found it hard to believe. I assumed that if it was true, it had to be an isolated incident.
So I began some months of research. What I discovered was shocking even to me: Not only were employees of Wal-Mart nationwide routinely directed to apply for Medicare, they were also regularly referred to government programs such as food stamps and Section 8 (subsidized) housing. I was furious and wanted to do something. I knew I had to make a film.
Given the millions of dollars Wal-Mart spends on ads telling us what a nice, caring all-American company they are, I did not expect the level of fear and resistance I immediately encountered. Current and former Wal-Mart employees at all levels were terrified that speaking out would cause them grave consequences. So we adopted a quiet, under-the-radar kind of approach in the hopes that Wal-Mart would not begin to attack and pursue people who consulted, advised or appeared on camera for the film. But despite our best efforts at remaining low-profile, the climate of fear at Wal-Mart is very pervasive and made it very very difficult for people to speak with us. Luckily, there are some terrific, committed and caring employees, past and present, who are coming forward with stories that will knock your socks off.
As we go forward I also invite everyone who can, to participate in making the film by sending me stories and/or video about Wal-Mart in your area and how it has affected your community. And send me the stories of those communities who have fought back and stopped Wal-Mart from coming into an area where they are not wanted. This film is going to thrive on the contributions of all of you to help finish it, and then to become the distributors around the country and get the film to the millions who should see this. And remember, the Wal-Mart story is not a partisan one, it truly cuts across all political boundaries to the core issue of fairness and greed. The people I am meeting and talking with, from employees to family business owners to farmers to ministers, have no political ideology in common -- just a firm belief that Wal-Mart is not playing fair. The largest corporation in the world can be expected not to act like a schoolyard bully.
Please join Brave New Films in helping to tell this story, put a spotlight on the issues involved, and help activate a debate that will change the way Wal-Mart does business. The largest corporation in the world should play by the rules.
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