Everybody loves a good David & Goliath story, often doubly so when the story happens to be entirely factual and quite ironic. Such is the case with McLibel, a scrappy and consistently engaging documentary about an average Jane (and Joe) who managed to stand up against one of the planet's most massive corporations.
Here's the really short version, partially because I'd rather let the facts speak for themself, but mainly because it's a long and arduous tale indeed:
Old pals Helen Steel and Dave Morris were members of London Greenpeace, an activist group that, at one point, decided to hand out anti-McDonald's flyers which offered a litany of seriously unflattering accusations towards the fast-food giant. Unfair labor practices, rain forest destruction, animal abuse, the "brainwashing" of the world's youth, etc.
So McDonald's Inc. did what it always did in these situations: it leveled libel charges against the activists, ordering them to either recant and apologize, or face the wrath of the McLawteam in the British courts. Helen and Dave chose not to apologize, thereby sparking the longest civil case in British legal history. And McDonald's ended up committing the biggest public relations blunder in the history of public relations blunders.
Simply by refusing not to cower before the might of the multi-national corporation, Helen and Dave managed to bring each and every one of their complaints to light -- in a media circus that soon had the McDonald's lawyers kicking themselves on a non-stop basis.
Originally released as a 53-minute document of McDonald's lengthy battle against the outspoken everyman, McLibel has been given an all-new facelift, thanks mainly to some recent developments that are pretty impressive indeed: Despite the fact that McDonald's ultimately won the initial case (the defendants never served any jail time or paid their fines), Helen and Dave used the case as a springboard for something considerably more important. By illustrating the unfair disparity in most libel cases (i.e. the unlimited resources of McDonald's vs. the practically broke defendants), the activists were able to move on to a superior court and actually change the laws. No longer would the wealthy corporations hold an unfair advantage over the poor schnooks they choose to sue.
Basically, it's an entirely fascinating tale of corporate malfeasance and the simple tenacity of a few brave nobodies. I've got no grudge against McDonald's personally (love those fries), but I took a small dose of satisfaction in seeing the corporate behemoth brought down with a swift case of humility.
Video: It's a mega low-budget indie doc mixed with some rather stagy courtroom re-enactments, so you shouldn't go in expecting anything gorgeous. Still, the fullscreen transfer looks as fine as it needs to look.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0. Perfectly serviceable and entirely audible. Optional English subtitles are available on the 52-minute version of the film.
First off, you can choose between two different versions of McLibel: The 1997 version that runs 52 minutes, or the 2005 cut, which runs 85 minutes. (I'd go with the new cut first, actually.) After you watch one (or both), then you can move on to the rather generous Happy Meal of extra goodies.
Settlement Meeting - Here's a 27-minute audio clip of a secret recording from a meeting between Helen, Dave, and a room full of McAttorneys. Cut down from four hours of footage, these "secret" recordings were taken from inside Helen's pocket. Crafty.
Amateur Dramatics - Six minutes of early rehearsals for the courtroom re-enactments.
Interview with spy - McDonald's actually hired spies to infiltrate the London Greenpeace group, but at least one of 'em has turned whistle-blower. Here's an extended 5-minute interview with Fran Tiller, former mole and, apparently, no longer a big fan of McDonald's.
Rejection Letters - As director Franny Anderson found out, not many of the British networks were interested in helping to produce an anti-McDonald's documentary. And here are the letters to prove it.
The Leaflet - Take a look at the original 1986 factsheet that started the whole mess, as well as a 2004 leaflet that recaps the McStruggle.
The Campaign - A text-based "History of the McLibel Campaign," as written by Helen Steel & Dave Morris. It's a handy little history lesson that manages to put the McLibel case into perspective.
For a very entertaining look back at the well-documented fiasco, be sure to check out the audio commentary that's accessible with the 52-minute version of McLibel. Helen, Dave, Franny, Dave's son Charlie, and director Ken Loach (who helped out with the re-enactment material) contribute to the lively and illuminating chat-track.
Commentary with McD's, dead & alive is a very snarky and very amusing commentary track. Director Franny Anderson "interviews" her various guests (including McD's founder Ray Kroc himself!), and they answer in the form of confirmed quotes found in news articles, autobiographies, and courtroom transcripts. Funny stuff indeed, although I doubt the McDonald's executives will find it all that amusing.
Interviews - Expanded from material found within the film (with some all-new stuff as well) are a series of interviews with Eric ("Fast Food Nation") Schlosser (9min), George ("McDonaldisation of Society") Ritzer (5m), Fran (McD spy) Tiller (same 5m interview clip as offered in the "Secrets" section), author/doctor/activist Vandana Shiva (4m), cattle tycoon Howard Lyman (5m), and former Ronald McDonald Geoffrey Giuliano (4m).
Quiz - A 25-question quizzer that's chock-full of McDonald's information that just might have you thinking about eating at home tonight.
The extras are rounded out with six deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and a bunch of trailers for McLibel, Drowned Out, Baked Alaska, Super Size Me, The Corporation, and oneworld.tv.
It's no secret that the world's most powerful companies like to throw their weight around, so it's quite invigorating to see a few normal folks stand up in the face of such overwhelming odds. I'm not saying I don't like a Chicken McNugget every once in a while, but it's always great to see a faceless, profit-centric corporation get knocked down a couple of pegs.