Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Wal-Mart is the largest corporation in the USA dreaded by small businesses who can never compete with its economies of scale and supermarket convenience. Director Micha Peled films Middle America at loggerheads with American capitalism as the concerned residents of the picturesque small town of Ashland, Virginia (pop. 7200) attempt to protect their way of life by keeping Wal-Mart out. Canvassing activists as well as the town councillors who have the responsibility of approving or denying planning permission, Peled does his best to provide a balanced overview. Is it his fault that the residents express their concerns so eloquently – or that Wal-Mart’s spokesmen are professionals shipped in to Ashland to recite the company line? Avoiding symbols of clenched fist militancy, Ashland’s shopkeepers, historians, and working moms fashion their resistance around the amusing and middleclass-friendly icon of a pink flamingo. Meanwhile some of the less affluent citizens wonder what can be so bad about a store where prices are low, variety is guaranteed and the only CDs on sale are G-rated. As local agitation escalates, Wal-Mart sends one of its lawyers to Ashland to seal the deal, providing Store Wars’ climax: America’s largest corporation face to face with small town politics. — BG
"Mr Peled uses portraiture, not polemics, to address the economic and philosophical issues. He wisely chooses a local woman, Rosanne Shalff, to act as narrator and guide. This affable woman, who lives in Ashland and wrote its only history book, introduces the characters with affection and an insider’s knowledge of their predilections. As the Wal-Mart proposal makes its way through the development board up to the town council she wryly comments on the action without judgement.
Mr Peled’s persistence is rewarded by actual drama. As the deadline nears for the town council to decide whether Wal-Mart can come to town, the pressure that comes to bear is heartfelt. Neighbours argue; political fortunes are upset. People weep real tears over the outcome. In capturing this passion Store Wars becomes a fascinating study of community action and a valuable reminder that people still can care enough about a place to fight for it." — Julie Salamon, NY Times