The Take

August 11th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Directed by Avi Lewis

Written by Naomi Klein

What is it about Canada? While Australia routinely falls in behind the US, in step with whatever neo-colonial economic or military action it enforces, Canada has given us some of the most outspoken and articulate social justice activists in recent history.

Michael Moore’s not from there, but he frequently cites Canada as an example of what a large, English speaking country with a similar socio-economic profile to the US manages to get right. Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, the filmmakers behinds last years wildly successful The Corporation are Canadian. So’s Naomi Klein, whose book No Logo has become a virtual manifesto for the new awareness of the failings of international capitalism.

And now some of Klein’s work appears to have rubbed off on her husband of ten years, Avi Lewis, who is joined by Klein on writing duties to direct his debut film, The Take.

Lewis is quick however to warn against what he calls ‘activist envy’. ‘We always think other countries are more mobilised than we are,’ he says while visiting Perth for the Revelation Film Festival. ‘Especially if you go to Latin and South America. In Canada we have little hubs of activism — particularly in the anti poverty movements — but we don’t have social movements or grand coalitions, and that’s what we need. When I came to Australia in 2000 I was blown away by the mobilisations against the G8, S11 and all the greenies going to Coober Pedy and fighting against nuclear waste dumping — and winning. I’m as in awe of Australian activists as you are of us.’

It’s in South America that Lewis found his muse for The Take – a group of auto parts workers sacked from their job and locked out of their factory when tens of billions of dollars streamed out of Argentina after the economic crash that Lewis and Klein — along with many others — blame on the World Bank and IMF.

A movement gradually sprang up across Argentina where workers in similar positions broke into their rusting former workplaces, cleaned the equipment up and formed co-operatives to take their operations commercial again.

Trying to win over both the courts and the same politicians whose interests had been quite openly compromised by World Bank kickbacks, battling against a lack of raw materials and what Lewis terms ‘rooting out their internalised hierarchies to learn how to make decisions together’, the group’s journey is documented in The Take, with Lewis and Klein sitting in on group meetings, getting the workers to talk about their fears and frustrations and joining protestors at picket lines surrounded in teargas.

This is the globalisation debate in human terms — with the kids who’ve forgotten what a McDonalds Happy Meal looks like and factory workers watching a vote in parliament with tears in their eyes. It’s all very affecting, and should be seen by those on either end of the political spectrum.

Part of the key to The Take’s message for Lewis is that, as a country with an economy comparable to that of Australia or Canada, Argentina’s spectacularly devastating crash could have happened right here at home, if not for the designs that he says earmarked Latin and South America as the ‘laboratory’ for the treatment it received.

In one sequence, taken during the infamous public rush on savings multinational corporations had already drained out of the entire banking industry, everyday people hammer on the doors of locked banks, smash ATMs and kick in windows. It’s also the reason it made a much more effective film than a book, Klein’s medium of choice thus far. ‘The film really comes from the content,’ Lewis says, ‘There are some projects that lend themselves to writing and some to film. If we’d wanted to do a ten point leaflet on how to take over a factory and run it as a co-operative it would have been a lot better to write, but we made a decision in favour of the human story. When you see those middle class people smashing bank machines, there’s no way to describe that with the same impact, you just have to see it.’

And in telling a story rather than presenting a snapshot of contemporary culture (as The Corporation or Fahrenheit 9/11 did) Lewis had a unique challenge. As a documentary, none of The Take was scripted, and he and Klein found themselves in the same boat as the workers.

‘I was hoping for a happy ending for the entire time, it was really in the hands of the workers at the heart of the movie,’ he remembers about the several trips various crew had to make to Argentina. ‘[Theirs was] the first factory occupation we managed to capture as it actually happened. Once we had that, we threw our lot in with this group of people, and whatever happened to them was going to happen in the film.

The Take is a small story, but one with consequences for all of us. As Lewis asserts, it’s hard to ignore the crises in our own societies (as well as the erosion of healthcare and unemployment safety net, he also talks about the Federal Government’s recent industrial relations bust-up) when a society just like ours can collapse with such sudden shock.

And it’s a call to action, endorsed by many in the activist community. The Corporation director Mark Achbar considers The Take almost a companion piece to his own film. As he gets asked in Q&A’s all the time, ‘we’re really mad now, we understand what’s being done to us, now what do we do?’

The Take is what we do.

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