The Yes Men
Directed by Chris Smith, Sarah Price and Dan Ollman
Released 18 February
FOR A couple of hours on 3 December 2004, the world became a better place. Dow Chemicals admitted their liability in the Bhopal disaster on the 20th anniversary of the night when poison gas silently leaked from the Union Carbide factory in central India.
Jude Finisterra, a spokesman for Dow Chemicals (which merged with Union Carbide in 2001) appeared live on BBC TV news and apologised for the disaster for the first time. Dow publicly undertook to clean up the still dangerous plant and properly compensate the victims.
But then the infiltrator was exposed. Jude Finisterra was in fact Andy Bichlbaum, one of the Yes Men.
Since the time of the Seattle protests against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1999, the Yes Men have been conducting a campaign of identity correction.
As Mike Bonnano, one of the Yes Men, told me, “We steal a criminal’s identity to publicly humiliate them.”
The Bhopal action attracted a fair amount of criticism for raising false hope. Did the action go wrong? Mike thinks it did, but only a little:
“It went far further than we intended it. We didn’t even think that we’d be able to get through the whole announcement before it got cut off. But they actually re-ran it for the next two hours before it was retracted.” Still he felt they did get the media to focus on the issue.
Unable to make it to the protests in Seattle, the Yes Men got hold of the internet site gatt.org. Mike says, “The idea was to try to attract people who are looking for information about GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) and give them information about the protests.
“After the Seattle protests were over, we kept the site up and the WTO took an interest in it and started to criticise it. Mike Moore, their director general, had a press conference where he called us deplorable.” The website led to the pair mistakenly being invited to various conferences by groups who thought they were part of the WTO. This film follows the results.
For more information go to www.theyesmen.org