German documentary filmmaker Marcus Vetter achieved quite the coup when he managed to get the World Economic Forum to allow his camera crew to shoot behind the scenes. A first in the WEF’s 50-year history and the resulting documentary, The Forum, is the result of a shoot that covers both the 2018 and 2019 annual meetings in snowy Davos. Every year since 1971, the WEF has been welcoming the most powerful people in the world – heads of state, business leaders, entrepreneurs – to the small mountain village in Switzerland. Their mission, according to the founder Klaus Schwab: to solve the world’s problems through dialogue. We follow Schwab as he and his team organize the annual meetings, which tackle the global agenda. From Trump to Macron, May to Thunberg, The Forum captures these figures making their way onto the stage of global politics and offers a unique perspective on our current times: the climate crisis, the rise of populism, crumbling trade talks, and Brexit.
Vetter deserves credit for raising vital questions without reducing complex issues to binary stances. His documentary shrewdly addresses preconceived ideas and navigates the nuances of multifaceted issues that are so easily lumped in right and wrong boxes by those who want vital change but naively offer up solutions that simply don’t take into account the tumultuous times we live in. Schwab is to be applauded for his good intentions and the platform that he has created; at the same time, his platform seems to have been progressively abused, transformed over the years into a PR stunt where the wealthy masquerade as concerned citizens of the world, chin-wagging whilst perpetuating the status quo, lobbying their own agendas and avoiding accountability. Similarly, Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, rightly criticises the WEF but uses the platform and the credibility it has amassed over the years to raise awareness, ignoring the almighty leg-up it concretely provides to certain tech entrepreneurs who are genuinely making a difference. Also, her giddiness over young climate activist Greta Thunberg (who appears in the documentary on several occasions) can be perceived as hawkish interest that somehow doesn’t quite sit well. Vetter makes sure that all sides are witnessed and has clearly understood that the scale of his project cannot be minimized, nor opinions force-fed.
It’s a shame that only a few segments flirt with the satirical goodness of The Thick Of It, teased when Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro sulks like Nosferatu’s bastard lovechild and ends up as Billy-no-mates at a drinks gathering, or when Aung San Suu Kyi seems more keen to discuss how much she hates the cold weather rather than address Myanmar’s persecution of journalists. Still, there’s enough in The Forum to stop you in your tracks, make you sigh out of despair, or outright guffaw when faced with hypocritical rhetoric and the limits of diplomacy. Make sure to seek out this timely, insightful and thought-provoking peek into the global capitalist system, the elite that pulls the strings, and how hopeful we can still afford to be.
The Forum | Directed by Marcus Vetter (Germany, 2018). Starts Nov 7.
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