When Occupy Wall Street was gathering steam in New York, Corey Ogilvie could only watch from home, in Vancouver. He didn't let that stop him from making a film about it.
At first, it was a short film. Ogilvie uploaded the seven-minute documentary I Am Not Moving to YouTube the same day his feature Nash – The Documentary, about basketball star Steve Nash, premiered at the 2011 Vancouver International Film Festival. The response was immediate.
"I checked my e-mail at the party after the screening and I had something like 300 new messages, which were comments on the video that went viral," says Ogilvie, 31. "It was just insane."
The short did indeed go viral – it received more than 1 million hits in two months – and even though he was badly in need of a break after Nash (which he co-directed with Michael Hamilton), Ogilvie knew he had his next feature project.
Occupy: The Movie, which has its Canadian premiere at Hot Docs in Toronto Monday and will open DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver on Friday, offers a compelling account of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which set up camp in Zuccotti Park in the heart of New York's financial district in September, 2011. The film, which premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival earlier this year, received a good review in Variety, which credited it with giving the complex Occupy movement "admirably cogent treatment."
Beyond the occupation itself, the documentary seeks to examine the reasons behind it, in particular the American banking system (broken, the protesters say); the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act – the up to $700-billion bailout for the U.S. financial system which followed the subprime mortgage crisis; and, more broadly, a system where politicians are in bed with bankers, the big-business media is more interested in reporting on Kate Middleton and Kim Kardashian than matters of substance, and the average young 99 per center faces the increasing impossibility of making ends meet, no matter how hard they work.
The anger and frustration arising from these conditions led to the birth of the Occupy movement, dreamed up by the Vancouver-based advocacy group Adbusters, following the Arab Spring.
"In our brainstorms," Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn says in the film, "we said to ourselves: We need a regime change in America as well. And we came to the conclusion that there's nothing more sexy, there's nothing more exciting than occupying the very heart of global capitalism, which is Wall Street, and to start our revolution there."
With Ogilvie in Vancouver as the Wall Street occupation got under way, escalated and ultimately ended, the filmmaker relied a great deal on footage taken by the Occupy protesters themselves.
"This film wouldn't have been possible without … citizen journalists," Ogilvie says. "At any given protest, almost every third person has a camera in their hand."
One protester in Boston provided a hard drive with 100 hours of footage on it. There are 21 citizen journalists credited in the film.
Ogilvie, who also serves as executive producer, cinematographer, writer and editor on the film (and in the meantime was able to pay the rent thanks to his own wedding-video and photo business) went to the United States in spring, 2012, to conduct interviews with people involved in the protest.
"The timing was just perfect, because the movement had already been evicted from the park, but it wasn't so beaten down yet that everybody was gone and it was dissolved," Ogilvie says. "So I was able to talk to everybody with a sense of hindsight; everyone was able to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses; it was far enough out of the madness and the chaos of the park."
High-profile observers, including Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges and Cornel West, also appear in the film.
If Occupy: The Movie is reminiscent of The Corporation, Mark Achbar's 2003 documentary, it's no coincidence. In fact, Ogilvie credits the award-winning film as the reason he got into making documentaries. When Ogilvie reached out to Achbar to see if the documentary veteran would review an early edit, the young filmmaker was thrilled that Achbar agreed – and offered positive comments.
"It was sort of a weird full circle to have Mark … watch it and give me the feedback," Ogilvie recalls. "It was really rewarding."
Ogilvie, who studied social-movement theory at the University of British Columbia, clearly has empathy for his subjects, and sympathy for their concerns. The film portrays the Occupiers as bright, strong, engaged deep thinkers willing to put themselves on the line – and the street – to fight for the greater good.
"What I shared with them," he says, "was this feeling that I don't want my economic destiny to be determined by some bank."