Sydney Film Festival Review: Pink Ribbons, Inc

This column was originally published in The Central Western Daily on Tuesday 12th June 2012.

The Sydney Film Festival is underway and this year’s crop of new films is fantastic. As a university student, I’d regularly buy a day pass and spend hours warming a seat in the State Theatre watching whatever was scheduled. One afternoon, I witnessed an early screening of a little local film called The Sum of Us which starred Jack Thompson, John Polson and a young Russell Crowe. The flick is an underrated Australian gem which I still champion. Thompson remains a legend in the film industry. Polson went on to create the Tropfest Film Festival and became a Director in his own right. I’m not sure what happened to Crowe. He seemed to have such potential.

It has been quite a while since I managed to find time to attend the festival but this year I couldn’t resist. Day passes are no longer available and now the whole shebang is a well organised event with online ticketing, major corporate sponsors and iPhone apps.

Ten o’clock in the morning is a little early for most cinema goers but there was an enthusiastic crowd awaiting the screening of the Canadian documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc this weekend. The film examines the phenomenon of cause marketing worldwide.

What an eye opener. I had no idea that the original pink ribbon was actually a salmon coloured homemade cloth ribbon sent out by Charlotte Haley, who had lost several members of her family to breast cancer. The ribbons were attached to a card which implored the public to lobby for more money to be spent on cancer prevention research.

Estée Lauder approached Haley in 1992 to use her ribbon as a symbol but she refused, not wanting her brainchild to be hijacked for corporate profits. The company then used focus groups to find a colour that was feminine and appealing. The breast cancer pink ribbon was then launched.

Léa Pool’s film pulls the curtain back on a world where companies which sell products containing carcinogenic agents are scrambling to associate their products with the pink ribbon, where millions of dollars are being raised through charity walks and runs but little is known about the coordination of research, and where very little money is actually being spent on finding the cause of breast cancer. There’s more potential profit in pharmaceutical treatments, you see.

The interviews with a Stage IV breast cancer support group in Texas are particularly heart breaking. Facing terminal cancer, the ladies struggle with the pink ribbon message of “learning to live” whilst they “learn to die”. One of the members has led a healthy lifestyle and can’t understand why she has developed cancer. This is then contrasted with the ridiculous notion of pink ribbon buckets of KFC.

Pink Ribbons, Inc is a one sided argument but the questions raised by the content are disturbing and make the film a must-see. The documentary style is not particularly stylish or fancy but the mix of talking heads in studio and interviews on location doesn’t outstay its welcome. Documentaries are a rarity in cinemas nowadays but it was refreshing to enjoy a film that is both entertaining, informative and thought provoking. Highly recommended.

The Sydney Film Festival runs until June 17.

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Published in: Uncategorized on June 13, 2012 at 13:00  Leave a Comment  

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