Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
As the advertising industry continues to spin the fabric of the corporate emperor’s clothing, a loose organisation of fun-loving saboteurs known as ‘Culture Jammers’ are currently taking great pleasure in pointing out that not only is the corporate emperor butt-naked, he is also butt-ugly. Irreverently challenging the usual one-way flow of advertising by opening a dialogue, activists, artists and pie-in-the-face pranksters target greedy and irresponsible companies, subverting their commercial messages for all to see with a unique brand of humour.
In carefully planned guerilla-style assaults, Jack Napier – a forty something founding member of the Billboard Liberation Front (BLF) – uses ladders and paint to ‘edit’ crucial words on San Francisco billboards under the cover of night to hilarious effect, while in New York Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping takes a more confrontational approach.
Rather than earnestly waving placards outside Disney’s headquarters in Times Square, Reverend Billy and his enthusiastic flock of supporters surreptitiously occupy the store posing as customers. At the signal, they all embark on conversations with imaginary friends, complaining uproariously into cellphones about how they refuse to buy products from a company that uses foreign sweat shop labour. By the time security arrives, Reverend Billy’s vehement sermon from the cash register is well under way, and the store has erupted into a frenzy of confused shoppers, anxious staff and gleeful rabble-rousers.
Innovative and unorthodox, director Jill Sharpe incorporates multicoloured and multilayered counter-culture collages into standard documentary footage, creating a buzz of on-screen activity. She also gets into the spirit of things by playfully superimposing video interviews onto billboards as a tip of the hat to the BLF. Culturejam: Hijacking Commercial Culture is an entertaining, intelligent and often outrageous look at people who have stopped believing the hype and decided to start fighting the power – with a sense of humour. — Matthew Donaldson