Year: 1998 (original), 2005 (extended version)
Type: Documentary film (1998: 52 minutes, 2005: 82 minutes)
Writer: Franny Armstrong
Directors: Franny Armstrong (film) & Ken Loach (court reconstructions)
Production Company: Spanner Films
Availability: original leaflet (download free from McSpotlight); 2005 film available from Spanner Films (stream for £4, download for £6 or buy DVD for £13) or watch the first 10 minutes (free on Vimeo) and clips and extras (free on YouTube).
Page reference: Skau, S. (2013) McLibel. followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/mclibel.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)
A documentary about the long-running court battle between the fast food giant McDonald's and the gardener and postman who refused to be bullied (Source: Ide 2006 p.16).
The recognition factor of the McDonald's golden arches is greater than that of the Christian cross. This fact emerges from Franny Armstrong's account of Britain's longest civil trial. Filmed over three years, it follows two environmentalists' fight for the right to free speech after they were sued for libel by the fast-food giant. The 1997 film has been released on DVD to capitalise on the irreverent look at obesity, Super Size Me (Source: Schmidt 2004 p.E10).
[McLibel] is the perfect companion piece to Morgan Spurlock's ‘Super Size Me.’ British working class activists Helen Steel and Dave Morris were branded ‘the McLibel two’ when they were sued by McDonald's for libel over allegations made in a well-documented pamphlet they distributed in 1988. Refusing to retract their statements, they defended themselves against the best legal talent fast food money could buy with little more than grassroots support. It became the longest trial in English legal history and a PR disaster for McDonald's (Source: Axmaker 2005 np link).
[This] first-rate documentary (with dramatisations of the marathon High Court trial directed by Ken Loach) ... [is a] David and Goliath story of the globalisation era [which] is instructive, exciting and often hilarious (Source: French 2006 np link).
[This] extraordinary documentary is the result of an extraordinary legal battle that pitted a band of five environmental and social activists against the legal might of McDonald's, the global family restaurant chain whose balance sheet puts many small countries to shame. This is a David-and-Goliath struggle that poses some challenging questions about the law, corporate subterfuge and freedom of speech. The story begins in 1986, when five members of London Greenpeace (a small group not linked, for the record, to the more famous international Greenpeace) handed out a pamphlet titled, ‘What's Wrong With McDonald's: Everything They Don't Want You To Know’. It made allegations relating to labour, food handling, nutrition, pollution and the environment, which we won't repeat here in case McDonald's lawyers are still a bit twitchy. Due to peculiarities in British libel laws, McDonald's sued Helen Steel, David Morris, Paul Gravett, Andrew Clarke and Jonathan O'Farrell for libel. What followed was a long, destructive legal battle peppered with victories on either side, though it is not difficult to see that the weight of public sympathy naturally falls on the side of the five activists forced to defend themselves (they were denied Legal Aid) against the expensive legal team of a big corporation (Source: Idato 2005 p.12).
Within the first five minutes, viewers see a long list of British media institutions that have been intimidated by the threat of legal action from McDonald's - indicating the clout that comes with the burger chain's annual $3 billion profit. The list includes such generally bolshie sections of the British press as The Guardian and Channel 4 and underscores the Achilles heel of modern media - the fear of losing advertising revenue. The doco has not been screened in Britain because Channel 4 and the BBC panicked at the last moment. It is, however, a vivid account of democracy in action - the people versus the system - and an often hilarious exposé of big-business arrogance (Source: Hessey 1999 p.10).
Accusing the company of being unhealthy, unfair to workers, cruel to animals, and other atrocities, Morris and Steel were expected to quickly apologize and promise to cease and desist - as countless media empires had before them. Not quite. The duo went to court, creating a PR nightmare for Mickey D's. Following Morris and Steel through the British legal system comprises the bulk of the film, with asides on the veracity of their claims - as the pair are charged with proving the truth of the leaflets in court. In the end, the decision goes half and half, as Morris and Steel are held liable for some of the claims, innocent on others (Source: Null nd np link).
... ‘McLibel’ [is] a documentary that follows two Greenpeace activists through what became the longest trial in England's history. McDonald's sued Helen Steel and Dave Morris in 1990 over a pamphlet the pair handed out in front of one of its fast-food restaurants in 1984. It accused McDonald's of starving the Third World, destroying rain forests and selling unhealthy food. In 1997, Steel and Morris were found guilty of libel and fined 40,000. Director Fanny Armstrong released her film in the U.K. in 1998. However, on Feb. 16 , the European Court of Human Rights declared the case breached the defendants' right to a fair trial and the Strasbourg-based court ordered Britain to pay the pair a total of E35,000 ($ 45,400) in compensation and offer a retrial. Cinema Libre plans to launch ‘McLibel’ theatrically in mid-April, a date that coincides with McDonald's 50th anniversary (Source: Harris 2005 p.22).
McDonald's Inc. did what it always did in these situations: it leveled libel charges against the activists, ordering them to either recant and apologize, or face the wrath of the McLawteam in the British courts. ... [But] McDonald's ended up committing the biggest public relations blunder in the history of public relations blunders. Simply by refusing not to cower before the might of the multi-national corporation, Helen and Dave managed to bring each and every one of their complaints to light - in a media circus that soon had the McDonald's lawyers kicking themselves on a non-stop basis (Source: Weinberg 2005 np link).
[What] McDonald's, the movie persuasively demonstrates, really is insidious. Its mechanized workplace procedures, long touted as exemplars of efficient uniformity, are designed to keep minimum-wage workers uniformly expendable – as expendable as the cute baby chicks we see gassed en masse in a clandestine ‘behind-the-scenes’ video. In intercut interview segments, Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser explains how the company's many infractions, from rainforest devastation to false advertising, add up to a comprehensive pattern of bad citizenship (Source: Schneider 2005 np link).
... highlights include footage from inside a McDonald's chicken processing plant. Fuzzy, adorable chicks roll down conveyer belts; unwanted ones are gassed - some 1,000 per week. The sight is horror-inducing, even for a callous, defiantly carnivorous junk-food w%@*e like me. Nearly as awful, despite their familiarity, are the images of overweight diners, ferociously cankled, massive boulder buttocks roiling underneath elastic waistbands. Who are these feckless fatties? Does anyone ever recognize his or her own giant heinie in one of these films? If the fast-food exposé becomes a cinematic genre, the fat footage could become a mighty deterrent indeed. While Armstrong walks viewers through the McLibel 2's attempt to defend each of their pamphlet's points in court, she creates a damning case against the corporation (Source: Thrupkaew 2005 np link).
A couple of homely, heroic progressives with more political passion than personal charisma, they once made the critical move of distributing leaflets that assailed McDonald's' policies on a variety of fronts, from customer nutrition to worker relations to animal cruelty. What ensued was a 15-year battle climaxing in a 314-day trial – the longest in British history – with the fast-food giant claiming injury to its reputation. Not only did the company have almost limitless legal resources upon which to draw, it was greatly aided by the nation's libel laws, which at the time of the case placed a severe burden of proof on defendants while denying them the right to state-provided counsel. Steel and Morris had some assistance from a barrister who had volunteered his services, but in court, they had to defend themselves every day for the two and a half long years the trial was in session. McLibel uncovers the fortitudinous personalities behind that nightmare marathon. A single dad, Morris is heard bemoaning the countless ‘negative’ images society is throwing at his young son; from fast food to the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, he appears never to have met a commercial influence he didn't consider unhealthy. Steel seems a good sight more down to earth, recalling how in childhood her mother taught her to cope with a neighborhood bully by landing a few blows of her own. The movie explores the mesh of Steel's and Morris' personalities, which came to border on the fractious as the case wore on and overwork took its toll. Steel was diagnosed with exhaustion, a medical crisis that engendered no delay in the proceedings on the part of the unsympathetic judge (Source: Schneider 2005 np link).
McLibel was 'officially' released way back in 1998, but like all good stories, it continues to develop. As I write this in March 2005, there's new footage in the film dating from just a month ago - though the film does seem to indicate the book has been closed on a very unique case in legal history. In England, there's a law that gives corporations wide-ranging authority over what can and can't be said about them. It's trivially easy to threaten a libel suit (Source: Null nd np link).
A stirring and sometimes funny film, ‘McLibel’ documents Morris and Steel's herculean struggle in much the same unassuming way that Morris, a former postal worker, and Steel, a former gardener, go about their business. Free of the fiery tempers and righteous zeal of many activists, Morris and Steel remain quietly impassioned and sympathetic throughout their legal battle. Britain's strict libel laws made their fight especially daunting - Morris and Steel had no jury, were not provided with legal counsel and had to defend themselves. ‘McLibel’ is strengthened by dramatic re-enactments of court testimony as well as incisive interviews, notably with Eric Schlosser, author of ‘Fast Food Nation,’ and a former Ronald McDonald actor who jokingly likens himself to ‘the guy in the Third Reich who was the propaganda minister.’ There's even a happy ending for Morris and Steel. Their story is a powerful reminder that the average citizen can sometimes throw an Egg McMuffin in the face of big business (Source: McMurtrie 2005 np link).
Viewers will see not only how the 1.8 billion dollars that McDonald's spends on advertising affects their bottom line, but how it manages to gloss over the unsavory aspects of their operations. The program also considers the extraordinary lengths to which a company like McDonald's will go to protect its own image (Source: Ferrier nd np link).
McDonald's tried every trick in the book against them. Legal manoeuvres. A visit from Ronald McDonald. Top executives flying to London for secret settlement negotiations. Even spies (Source: Anon nd np link).
The film covers a series of bizarre developments - the company employing private investigators to infiltrate the activists' protest group, a former Ronald McDonald talking about how he couldn't live with himself any more for manipulating children, McDonald's executives offering a settlement in a secret recording (Maddox 1999 p.15).
McDonald's executives look like shady heavies from central casting and their use of private detectives to infiltrate the protest group brings to mind The Man Who Was Thursday, GK Chesterton's story about an anarchist cell in which secret policemen far outnumbered subversives (Source: French 2006 np link).
... as seen from the inside, there's a pleasing they-shall-not-pass feel to Helen Steel and Dave Morris's exhausting endeavour - which concludes with new material after their success in the European courts - as well as weird little revelations, like the infiltrator who turned up in a BMW. What's most evident, though, is the astonishing effect that the internet has had on this type of activism, converting eccentric political nerds into heroic techno warriors practically overnight (Source: Pulver 2006 np link).
Neither Steel nor Morris see their struggle as a David-and-Goliath scenario, in the conventional sense. ‘It's the public that are the giants,’ says Morris. In a way, he implies, he and Steel were just the people's servants. It's a startlingly unique, and individual decision, their insistence on their own quirky, stubborn ways in the face of the crushing - some might say homogenizing - power of McDonald's. This attitude carries through every moment they are onscreen as well. Steel and Morris never showboat for the camera or detract from the issues for the sake of their own self-aggrandizement (Source: Thrupkaew 2005 np link).
... while Dave and Helen are unquestionably ‘underdogs’ of the kind that power old Frank Capra movies, they resist being turned into just another ‘human interest’ story on the nightly TV news. Their rage is always muted. They dismiss their personal problems as ‘trivial’ in view of the big picture. Dave insists halfway through the doco: ‘There's no sex angle, I'm afraid’ (Source: Martin 1999 p.5).
Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser ... pops up to praise the London activists and - unintentionally - reveals what makes them so special. He's a well dressed smoothy-chops who seems more than a little seduced by fame. Knackered, awkward, self-deprecating and (in Dave's case, especially) warm - these two unlikely winners seem incorruptible (Source: Anon 2006a p.35).
The final chapter of the story was played out in the European Court of Human Rights, which, in February this year, ruled that the original case had breached two articles of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms - the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression - by denying the McLibel defendants access to Legal Aid (Source: Idato 2005 p.12).
Originally released [in 1998] as a 53-minute document of McDonald's lengthy battle against the outspoken everyman, McLibel has been given an all-new facelift, thanks mainly to some recent developments that are pretty impressive indeed: Despite the fact that McDonald's ultimately won the initial case (the defendants never served any jail time or paid their fines), Helen and Dave used the case as a springboard for something considerably more important. By illustrating the unfair disparity in most libel cases (i.e. the unlimited resources of McDonald's vs. the practically broke defendants), the activists were able to move on to a superior court and actually change the laws. No longer would the wealthy corporations hold an unfair advantage over the poor schnooks they choose to sue (Source: Weinberg 2005 np link).
... the result took everyone by surprise - especially the British Government. McLibel is not just about hamburgers. It is about the importance of freedom of speech now that multinational corporations are more powerful than countries (Source: Anon nd np link).
[Director Franny Armstrong] got into movie-making ‘by accident’ after her documentary-maker father lent her a camera to shoot what eventually became the hit film McLibel (Source: Boycott 2009 np link).
Armstrong's career in film making began after she heard about the McLibel trial – the 1990 libel case brought against activists Helen Steel and David Morris by McDonald's after the pair had distributed leaflets saying the fast-food restaurant encouraged litter and abused its workers. ‘I heard about the McLibel story and thought it was the most inspiring thing I had ever heard,’ says Armstrong. ‘I had access to the equipment, so I thought I would make a film about it to help.’ Worried by the threat of legal action, traditional channels would not back her, so Armstrong had to come up with cash herself, ‘through [her] rich boyfriend and credit cards’ (Source: Sharp 2009 np link).
As a would-be film-maker, Armstrong was inspired by the story of two campaigners, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, who had been sued by McDonald's for handing out a six-page leaflet called ‘What's wrong with McDonald's - everything they don't want you to know’. Fertile as the ground was for a documentary, Armstrong found eight other film-makers had approached Steel and Morris before she expressed an interest. It was only when Britain's broadcasters wouldn't commission any of them (although Channel 4 commissioned a drama) that the others disappeared. As Armstrong says: ‘That left us, so we said, ‘We'll make it with no money. That's no problem.’’ Armstrong thought it was the best story in the world for a film. ‘This was a story that had all of the issues I was interested in - the environment, animal rights, workers' rights, nutrition. Plus, it had this great human story - Helen and Dave were both magnetic.’ McDonald's refused to allow its witnesses to appear in the film, so Armstrong decided to dramatise segments of the transcripts. That meant finding a drama director. ‘We made a list of who we would like to direct our drama. At the top of the list was Ken Loach. At the bottom was me, I guess. We got in touch with his production company and got back this very sweet fax saying, ‘I would be delighted to help you with your film. Let me know what you want me to do’ (Source: Maddox 1999 p.15).
Armstrong's approach is fairly straightforward, dealing lucidly and succinctly with each of the seven counts listed in the offending pamphlet. You hear both sides of the argument, then the judge's verdict. But, inevitably, the film is pitched in the defence's favour. After all, Morris and Steel made themselves freely available - proud of their status as underdogs and eager to have their say. McDonald's, on the other hand, ducked for cover, refusing to let its witnesses appear in the film. Instead, some of the court transcripts are dramatised in sequences directed by Ken Loach and featuring a series of blank-faced actors, whose stitched-up performances do nothing to elicit sympathy. The defence, meanwhile, produces a relaxed and expansive array of supporters, ranging from researchers and nutritionists to a former Ronald McDonald who has defected to the other side and brings insights into the ways in which the company's advertising targets children. The film's most controversial sequence - already much discussed in the media - is a recording of a meeting between the two environmentalists and a group of McDonald's executives who offered to settle out of court if the pair would agree never to voice their criticisms in public again. Made in secret by Morris and Steel, this recording is, in essence, highly unethical. But the news that McDonald's, on an earlier occasion, had hired private investigators to infiltrate the activist group to which the two belonged puts an entirely different complexion on it. To me, the act of covertly taping those who have already set spies on you seems like a justifiable move in a game already in play (Source: Hall 1999 p.12).
In early 1995, eight TV production companies and I [Franny Armstrong] descended on Helen Steel and Dave Morris, the defendants, then went on to deluge the television channels with proposals. Three months later, the BBC didn't feel 'sufficiently enthusiastic' about the story, ITV said there wasn't enough action in it and Channel 4 had decided to go with a three-hour dramatic reconstruction of the courtroom. I thought the television channels had got it wrong. I knew a man with a Beta camera and an AVID edit suite, so I left my job and set out to make a balanced but hard-hitting documentary about the trial and the issues it raised. Two days later, I owned a television production company, One-Off Productions (or 'Oops, I've been sued and gone bankrupt', for short). My shifting pool of about 20 volunteer technicians usually produced a crew far more experienced than me, but there were a couple of occasions when I ended up doing sound and camera myself. The most memorable of these followed McDonald's decision to sponsor a summer funday at Dave Morris's son's playgroup. I had to handle digital camera, secret camera, two radio microphones and half a dozen McDonald's security staff on my own, while pretending to be the mother of some mysteriously absent young children. A severe bout of food poisoning didn't help. As the case ambled its way towards becoming the longest in history, funding became more and more of a problem. We made a surprising amount selling our footage to news stations around the world (most requested shot: Helen and Dave preparing their cross-examination on the Tube) and begged the rest from McLibel fans. Helen and Dave had persuaded an extraordinary list of more than 70 scientists, researchers and former McDonald's employees to give evidence on their behalf, from the Secretary of the International Union of Food Workers to some of the world's leading cancer experts. We interviewed many of them. Then, by an absurd coincidence, my sister got drunk with a fellow student on her nutrition course who decided to admit - for the first time - that many years before she had been employed as a spy by McDonald's. 'Not McLibel?' said my sister. The spy later gave evidence for the defendants and appears in our film. We put her in the box marked 'exclusives', along with a secret meeting between the two sides and an interview with a former Ronald McDonald. Talking to people on the other side was not so easy. When we wrote to McDonald's expert witnesses asking for interviews, we received replies not from them, but from the corporation's press office. Mike Love, head of press for McDonald's UK (and, before that, agent for Margaret Thatcher) promised an interview after the verdict. (I have the pledge on tape.) Later, he said he'd never said anything of the sort. It seemed to us that the only way to include McDonald's side of the story was to dramatise their evidence. But we didn't know how to do drama (or documentary, for that matter, but we were learning fast). Ken Loach was undoubtedly the person to ask to direct that part of the film. He said yes. We fell off our chairs. Twenty thousand pages of court transcripts and several hours on the phone to Loach later, we had chosen which parts of the proceedings to dramatise. It would have been a 14-hour mega-film if I'd had my way and not sacrificed any of the classic moments. … We spent a day filming with 10 actors, one judge's costume, two tables, several large books and some long black drapes. Meanwhile, Channel 4 had decided to go ahead with its courtroom drama. I spoke to the producer, Dennis Woolf, and agreed to send him a rough cut of our film because he seemed like a nice man. Everyone who knew anything about film-making told me it was a terrible mistake to help the opposition. But then Woolf spoke to his friend, who happened to be the editor of the BBC's Heart Of The Matter, and who happened to have a spare episode in her next series, which happened to coincide with the upcoming verdict. After one table-thumping afternoon with Morris, she scheduled our film for BBC1, 10.30pm, June 30, 1997. 'Can we have a contract?' I asked naively, as we scurried between Manchester and London, cutting our film down to Heart Of The Matter's 40-minute timeslot. 'We'll sort that out next week. Let's concentrate on the editing.' They could only afford to pay us £15,000, which wouldn't even cover our debts, but they had 3.5 million viewers. Then, 10 days before transmission, the 'L' word came up: the legal and editorial departments of the BBC demanded so many cuts the Heart Of The Matter team were no longer interested. And no, they wouldn't pay us for the last two weeks' work. Then they called back. We've decided to do our own 15-minute programme about McLibel. Can we buy all your best footage, at a very cheap rate? The day the verdict finally came, my story was swamped with newcomers. ITN and the BBC had cottoned on to the classic Tube shots and the massed photographers were staking out ladder-space from dawn. I felt agreeably smug turning down the requests for a feed from the defendants' radio microphones as they came out of court to face their cheering supporters. … So the judge ruled in McDonald's favour, McLibel was the hottest story of the week and we were left with a 40-minute hacked version of the film and no transmission. There was a brief flurry of interest from Channel 5 and World In Action, but no one was prepared to take on McDonald's. It had all been a waste of time. I lay in bed sulking and my granny phoned to say she'd waited up for Heart Of The Matter but couldn't see anything about McDonald's. Coming back on the train from the Sheffield Documentary Festival a couple of months later, I bumped into Alan Hayling, commissioning editor for documentaries at Channel 4. Despite falling asleep mid-conversation, he said he was interested and took a tape. So far, so normal, but then he phoned a few days later, saying he wanted to broadcast it on Channel 4. He'd just have to check with the lawyers first. Their response: 'McDonald's would almost certainly sue Channel 4 and would almost certainly win.' It might be tempting to dismiss us as enthusiastic amateurs who had forgotten to consider legal issues. But a top media lawyer had been advising us, for free, throughout production, scrutinising rough cuts and suggesting changes to ensure 100 per cent accuracy. In his opinion, the film is fair comment and carries little risk of a libel suit (Source: Armstrong 1998 p.4).
The film-maker Franny Armstrong reckons she's been thrown out of more McDonald's stores than anyone else. The making of McLibel - Two Worlds Collide, a documentary about two English environmental campaigners who were sued by the burger chain, involved some covert filming in stores that invariably led to being shown the door. But as she explained in Sydney yesterday - at a restaurant notably short on Big Macs and Quarter Pounders - being ejected from the Golden Arches was far from the only challenge in making the film. First there was getting to make it, when it seemed half the documentary-makers in Britain wanted rights to the story. Then there was finishing it, when the trial that was expected to last four weeks ran for more than two years - 314 sitting days - which made British legal history. Then there was getting it screened. But 27-year-old Armstrong's persistence has turned McLibel into a kind of cult film - screening on video, local-access cable channels, the Net and occasionally cinemas through an international network of activists. On the day of the appeal against the verdict in January, her e-mail around the world resulted in McLibel screening simultaneously at 104 locations in 22 countries (Source: Maddox 1999 p.15).
Like these valiant fighters, Armstrong concentrates attention on the facts and issues of the case. Her presentation of the material is clear and lucid, methodically working through five major topics: nutrition, consumer deception, manipulation of children, employment conditions, and the treatment of the environment. Where any other documentary would have held viewers in suspense by mimicking the chronology of the case and leaving the judge's verdict until the end, this one patiently explains all along the successes and failures of the activists' efforts. It has become de rigueur for critics to suspect of every new documentary that it is probably unbalanced or incomplete in its argument, that it fails to fairly represent all sides. McLibel is patently partial in its championing of Dave and Helen. But considering that free speech is under so much threat and that the multinationals can readily buy all the prime-time media access they will ever need, this bias is cause for celebration (Source: Martin 1999 p.5).
Way before Super-Size Me's time and way more legally involved, this gives a very interesting look into McDonald's soulless black heart (Source: Sarah P 2007 np link).
... this likeable film is the flipside of the bombastic Michael Moore style of activism - mild-mannered but unmovable, impassioned but resolutely down-to-earth. Even though we all know how the story ends, this is a very watchable little film about a big battle (Source: Ide 2006 p.16).
More a TV documentary then a film, the story is alot more fascinating then it's staging (it doesn't have 'Super Size Me's entertaining aspect), 'McLibel' is still definatly worth seeing, more as an interesting piece of history than as an interesting film (Source: marxthedude 2006 np link).
The film is as scruffy and scrappy as its protagonists. So invigorating is its crusading spirit that you forgive the clumsy courtroom re-enactments, in which Morris (who is nobody's actor, let alone matinee idol) awkwardly reprises his real-life interrogations of McDonald's executives. Played against a stark black background, these stilted setups have all the naturalistic nonchalance of E!'s Michael Jackson coverage. But for every second you spend squirming in discomfort, you enjoy five minutes of awe at the expertise with which filmmaker Franny Armstrong (who directed the movie but not the courtroom scenes) advances the defendants' arguments (Source: Schneider 2005 np link).
Great story, slightly awkward film: While the story is terrific, the re-enactments, especially of the courtroom scenes are awkward, and the over simplistic idealism of some of the couples’ political theory (‘why can’t McDonalds simply give half of it’s profits to their workers’) can be a bit much to take. Still, it’s good to see something that makes you realize the little guy can win now and again’ (Source: runamokpods 2011 link).
This movie is painful to watch. The two activists come across as petulant children railing against practically every injustice in the world that they can think of. The documentary fails to present a coherent argument. It's all over the map - in one minute they're complaining that killing chickens by beheading them isn't the most humane way to do it (but is that really true? they don't cover any alternatives) and in the next moment they're complaining that McDonald's is responsible for rain forest destruction (but they don't even say why! I guess because McDonald's uses paper? But so does every other company on earth). This film could have been better with more facts about the UK legal angle and much less anti-corporation propaganda (jdavin-1 2010 np link).
In trying to figure out what the concluding message of the film was, all I could come up with is that it showed what a waste of resources their case was and how pointless this all was. All it really did was feed millions of dollars to lawyers. But the fact that tying up the courts like this only benefits the lawyers is not really an interesting fact or anything new. The film is saddled by some unfortunate decisions, including a half-assed reenactment of some of the court scenes and a tragically poor explanation of the British legal system, which will come off as entirely foreign and random to American viewers. The subjects of the film also go through some unfortunate moments which display a frightening failure to understand how business and industry works: No, McDonald's can't 'give half its profits to its employees, and yes, McDonald's has to serve its shareholders first, not society at large. Anti-capitalist sentiment can work on a gut level, but it can be extremely misplaced, and neither Armstrong nor Morris and Steel are able to offer solutions to the mess they've almost blindly wandered into (Source: Null nda np link).
McLibel could have been an underdog story, but film makers had a different agenda. Morgan Spurlock (Supers Size Me) and Michael Moore (Fahrenheit 911) know how to make a documentary entertaining and still get their point across. You may disagree with the filmmakers but it is all-consuming watching the filmmaker unfold the argument in front of you. A more descriptive title would have been 'Greenpeace vs. McDonalds'. Franny Armstrong and the London Greenpeace folks shot for the publicity and controversy. McLibel (read Greenpeace) makes some valid points: • in the UK when you go to trail you get legal representation unless if it is a libel case then you are on your own. Since large corporations have so much in resources ($$$) everyone will just apology rather than face an expensive court battle. • McDonalds and other large corporations use their power and money to affect our buying habits through our children. • Many corporations underpay their worker. However there is no counter-point. The movie spent 83 minutes explaining and fighting what is wrong with society but as far as a solution: 2 minutes to say approximately: 'mega corporations are evil. We believe individuals should be making their own decisions on what products and services should be made available.' I see this as a radical stand and I am not sure how Greenpeace actually envisions this utopia. Are they suggesting that everyone should grow their own vegetables like one of the protagonist? Should society be sourcing commercial goods locally? Should we constrain advertising so we eliminate the 'push' market and end up with a 'pull' economy? All of these are a radical change in society. Sorry Greenpeace, there are things I dislike about our society but a socialist reform is not the answer (Source: Homogeek 2007 np link).
It went from being about health and selling children to a socialist / communist campaign about wages, number 1 business is only in business to make money, if the workers arnt skilled enough well they should go to school, my grand parents were exploited but it allowed them to have luxuries like a house, a car, a phone, a television and in their spare time they improved their skill set. Britain is a socialist society (Source: dean abr 2011 np link).
Hey dean abr. I reckon Business needs to reassess its' priorities and make people as important as (if not more than) profit. As a British citizen I can say that it is not a Socialist Society. For reference: http://search.avg.com/?q=socia... We've got a Queen and everything! Cheers! ;) (Source: Jez Horbury 2011 np link).
I have mixed feelings about this. I was horrified to see the baby chicks being gassed. I also know that a low fiber / high fat diet is not healthy for you. But I don't think these practices are limited to just McDonalds (Source: Ida K 2007 np link).
This is a great video, but the guy is a hypocrite: He’s mocking multinationals and - check this out! - at 2:22 in the video, he’s preparing breakfast with KELLOGG’S CORN FLAKES (Source: 666ftDEEP 2008 np link)!!!
How is eating cornflakes hypocritical? Your argument makes no sense. Morris and Steele were fighting for the freedom to speak againt multi-national coorporations. They chose to critise McDonald’s because they felt they were morally culpable for deceiving customers, falsely advertising, destroying rainforests and causing heart disease. They’re not having a go at all food companies! Kellogg’s cornflakes obviously aren’t unhealthy and the company isn’t nearly as big as McDonald’s (Source: ThisIsAnOutrage25 2009 np link).
At last the little man beats the evil giant. Hooray (Source: theodossian52 2009 np link)!!
Don't cry when you put all these corporations out of business and then there are no jobs (Bill K 2007 np link).
McDonalds NEEDS to reform what they sell . . it is pure rubbish and to say otherwise is absurd . . instead of spending money to defend stubborn PRIDE . . they should have hired on these two as CONSULTANTS to collaborate on how to CHANGE THEIR FOOD to be more healthful . . the facts should speak to BOTH parties . . everyone knows it is bad ! Why can't Mc D's not EVOLVE toward IMPROVEMENT ? ? What's wrong with that ? NO shame there . .duh .. the adversarial corporate mentality. WASTEFUL and PETTY (Source: muggyspin 2009 np link)!
F**k McDonalds. I can't agree more that they sell their garbage to stupid? fat americans, but Europe is too good to be eating that crap (Souce: mcmlxvi 2009 np link).
McDonalds is garbage in any country ... but I'd rather eat a burger from there, if it's from a danish restaurant, than an american one. Good god, the difference in simple flavour should tell you everything? you need to know. If you MUST eat garbage because you have no other choice, pray you live in scandinavia or another country who takes the health of their citizens seriously, who wont allow american capitalist pigs to shove cartilage and skin and fat into your mouth, calling it meat (Source: hcvang 2009 np link).
If you really want to do something about it, become a vegatarian (Source: Ida K 2007 np link).
Absolutely awesome. The slow food movement is growing as the antidote to the junk food industry. It has chapters all over now (Source: PoterPrinciple 2009 np link).
I stopped eating fast food three years ago now I realise that I have made the right decision.I can’t stand how they exploit children’s innocent minds to earn more money and they also exploit our feeling of hunger. I thought human beings are clever but we can’t even see this fact. I appreciate Morris and Steel for not giving up easily (Source: Prospice 2007 np link).
I would describe myself as an ultraliberal. I am certainly no fan of McDonald's. I never eat there, and I don't own any stock. The fact that a company like McDonald's exists makes me cringe. Honestly, I feel this documentary was poorly made, and that most reasonable people who are truly interested in the famous McLibel trial would be better off reading about the McLibel trial than wasting time viewing this film. I feel that many viewers of this film feel that society would be a better place if more people watch this film and as a result are giving this unjustifiably good reviews. In truth, this is a really bad documentary. Even though it is less than 90 minutes long, it is extremely boring and frustratingly uninformative. I feel the McLibel case made the McDonald's Corporation look pretty silly. I really wanted an informative documentary that was going to present the facts surrounding the trial and the events leading up to the trial, possibly make me laugh, and explain what exactly it is about British law that made this sort of lawsuit seem viable to the McDonald's lawyers. Instead, I was presented, for the most part, with an uninformed and naive, one-sided, boring rant against the McDonald's Corporation for its business practices, primarily from the point of view two unlikeable, self-righteous, and naive characters. My first main complaint is that the title is a bit misleading. This is more a polemic against the McDonald's Corporation and its business practices than it is a documentary about the McLibel case per se. If the parts that weren't actually about the trial were cut out, I'd estimate this film would've been maybe about 30 minutes long. And there is hardly anything here about the pro-plaintiff British libel laws that made this kind of suit seem feasible for McDonald's to pursue in the first place (but only in the UK) - which really would have been the most interesting subject to talk about, in my view. It is as if the filmmaker wanted some excuse to make a film to educate us all about how bad McDonald's is and viewed the McLibel trial as a perfect excuse. As if any reasonable viewer doesn't already know that McDonald's food tends to be unhealthy, or that McDonald's workers get paid very low wages, or that millions of chickens are slaughtered to make Chicken McNuggets! Who doesn't know this? Well, if you didn't already know it, you will have definitely learned it by the time this film is done, because it will have been repeatedly beaten into your brain, unless, of course, you fall asleep first. My second main complaint is that the two principle characters, the defendants in the McLibel case, come off as self-righteous and just kind of silly, naive, twittering dingbats. For example, they and some other characters that talk in the film repeatedly express dismay at the notion that a multinational corporation such as McDonald's actually cares only about profits and not really about its workers or its consumers as people (except to the extent caring about us translates into profits of course). But these complaints are naive. You can't complain that vociferously about a multinational corporation wanting to maximize profits - their shareholders could sue them if they do anything less - the complaint needs to be directed more at the relevant law that allows and encourages this kind of corporate behavior, the people that support these laws, and, to some extent, at the consumers that support McDonald's and the workers that won't unionize and that accept such low wages. It's one thing to state the facts about McDonald's dispassionately and let the viewer decide for him- or herself whether to support McDonald's with his/her wallet, or to state the facts dispassionately and then go on to explain not only the situation the workers and consumers find themselves in relative to McDonald's, but also the situation that the McDonald's Corporation finds itself in relative to its stockholders, but it's another thing to one-sidedly skewer the McDonald's Corporation for the entire situation when the workers themselves, the consumers themselves, and the legal systems controlling the countries in which McDonald's operates and the people controlling those legal systems all share the blame. … The best documentaries are those that either neutrally present facts about events, or present the best of all sides of whatever issue is being discussed from the points of views of well-informed and intelligent people, and that do so in an interesting manner. That does not in any way describe this documentary. … If you want to be beaten over the head with an anti-McDonald's rant, see this film. If you want to learn about the McLibel trial, do yourself a favor and ignore the other reviewers and go read about it instead. It's a fascinating trial (Source: youaresquishy 2007 np link).
As a West Coast ‘California’ Liberal now living in Texas, I spend a lot of time faced with anti-Liberal rants. And after watching 'McLibel' I see why most conservatives dislike my kind so much. This film was most likely meant to be educational, entertaining and more than a little political with a Loberal slant. However it just comes off as hack-kneed and reactionary. My favorite moments were the following: 1) To show how McD's was bad for us, the film makers show us a fat man walking PAST a McDonald's in London, 2) The moment when our hero said that the English Legal System was unfair because he and his associate (as the Defendants) had to actually PROVE what they were saying was true while McDonald's (as the Plaintif) could just sit there ... Um, yeah, 3) The defendant's admitted ignorance of the legal system their refusal to refer to the judge in the case as My Lord, as is traditional in England, 4) When the defendant refers to the poster of Ronald McDonald in his son's play school as McDonald's ‘Taking over’, 5) Referring to a visit to his son's play school as ‘pernishes’. Seriously, you would have to be brain dead to not actually laugh at the ridiculous nature of these comments. In no way is this film helping the Liberal movement in either the United States or in the U.K. In fact, is my belief that this film and the actions of it's ‘heros’ undermine the very useful and very real work of those of us who are trying to make the world a little more fair. Coupling these things with the VERY poor film making techniques made this film a real bust for me. If I could say one thing to the film maker it would be to stop wasting your time and mine and actually HELP those of us trying to make REAL change. Trying to bring McDonald's down is a fool's errand. Of course, maybe that's all I should expect from a pack of fool's with a camera (Source: dkbengel 2008 np link).
McLibel starts out in the infotainment / propaganda vein now so familiar to weary documentary viewers: Armstrong unreels background context (‘A friendly clown persuaded children to love the company’) in Star Wars fashion, giant yellow type receding into black. Fussy British actors play opposite Steel and Morris in court-scene reenactments - very McMasterpiece Theatre. But despite the bells and whistles, and unapologetic partisanship, McLibel remains a complex and fascinating film, with heroes all the more convincing for their unflashy devotion to their cause. Steel and Morris make an interesting contrast to Spurlock (who structured Super Size Me so he could forever have his mug in the camera). The ‘McLibel 2’ are stubbornly self-effacing, which allows Armstrong time to supply viewers with gruesomely fascinating information about the business, employment, advertising, and manufacturing processes at McDonald's. Armstrong makes excellent use of her experts, including a former Ronald McDonald clown who decided that he couldn't live with himself any longer if he kept manipulating children. … I wish McLibel all the viewers it so amply deserves. But I also worry that viewers might feel like they've already seen ‘the McDonald's documentary’ after viewing the comparatively lightweight and self-indulgent Super Size Me. That would be a tremendous pity. Although McLibel might not be as slick going down, it's a lot healthier and more fulfilling in the end (Source: Thrupkaew 2005 np link).
‘It is about the importance of freedom of speech now that 'MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS' (BOM-BOM-BOM!) are more powerful than countries.; What a shameless attempt to turn pseudo-convictions into dollars (or pounds, in this case). It seems painfully clear that the release of this documentary is a nauseating attempt to ride on the coat tails of Super Size Me. I know it culminated in 1997 or so, but that just makes its 2005 release all the more transparent for what it really is: Shameless. The types of people who enjoy these types of films are so jaded toward ‘THE CORPORATIONS,’ that monolithic, hell spun entity, because they're so successful. What it comes down to is pure, unadulterated jealousy. Yet ironically, those same champions of egalitarianism; the self-styled ‘Davids’ of David and Goliath lore, are pretty quick to engage in practices which might help to line their pockets, as evidenced by this film's shamelessly belated release. Steer clear of this sore loser propaganda (Source: justsomeregularguy 2005 np link).
they weren't losers, sore or otherwise. That's the point. They won - despite the odds. And when that is no longer the basis for an interesting film then we might as well all give up. Whether you agree with their politics or not, the stand they took, the obstacles they faced and the dirty tricks pulled by Maccas make this the perfect subject for a documentary. What bugs me most about the people who are on here criticizing this movie is the line that these ‘do-gooders’ are profiting from this movie's release. Unlike people like you, making money is not the only motivation in this world and if you saw this film, you'd realise it is way down the list of priorities for these two people. Sometimes just getting the message out is the most important part. But I guess that wouldn't even occur to some people (Source: roystonv 2006 np link).
To the previous poster, justsomeregularguy, who equivocates the producers of this film to multinational corporations, please explain to me how this documentary has made tens of billions of dollars per annum, like a multinational worth their salt does. Your whole argument, and your anger over a certain type of filmmaker or person fails with a fallacy of that caliber. Read Adorno's The Culture Industry and get over it. I am SO sick and tired of people accusing any and all director or filmmaker of cashing-in by copying or riding on coattails of others just because they see the flood of remakes / ripoffs / plaigarisms bouncing between Hollywood, Bollywood and Asia (aka The 2006 Oscar winner) and apply that in all cases: Another baseless equivocation! Quite simply, a film like this will hardly make ANY money off direct sales. Most documentaries make their money back due to library acquisitions and television broadcast rights. I really have to question the mind that thinks that a documentary like this is made motivated by greed. Films like the Corporation and Super Size Me are exceptions, and frankly the whole ‘documentaries are the new blockbuster’ paradigm is also way past its sell-by date, and to buy into that is to accept what amounted to hype in the first place. For every Incovenient Truth there are thousands of conventional narrative films. We notice those docs because of their exceptional nature in the film marketplace. Again, McLibel is not exactly Spider-man 3. Let's please keep things in perspective. If anything, you give this film you seem to be angry at way too much credit. You also indirectly insult filmgoers by assuming we're all suckers and wouldn't be able to see past a rip-off and you attempt to privilege yourself as if you know better, by proxy. If anything, it's whatever amount of attention the Palme D'Or has brought to Ken Loach's work that might get some more people to see this. Finally, films of the same subject and type have been made in close proximity to each other; it's called a zeitgeist, and more than one person can tap into it at the same time. The Illusionist/The Prestige for example. Superficially: Costume dramas with magic. On any other, non-reflexive level: Totally different narratives (Source: armadillo_smuggler 2007 np link).
I saw this movie the other day and it was very good. Keep in mind that the two won in court (in which McDonald's was fined). The charges against McDonalds was supported by footage of cows and chickens in slaughterhouses, and workers at McDonalds. Everone should see it. McDonald's hired the best lawyers money can buy and had a fair chance in defending itself, but lost. Nobody gagged McDonalds not with its billions of dollars in advertising and PR. So it's hard to feel that anyone was unfair to McDonalds. We need more of this kind of documentary because as it was stated, it is unlikely we would see this as a commercial television special because commercial television depends on McDonald's advertising revenue (Source: ae7561 2005 np link).
And so we come to the crux of the matter. Is the film libellous, or are the media censoring themselves? Over the past 15 years, McDonald's has threatened legal action against more than 90 organisations in the UK, including the BBC, Channel 4, the Guardian, the Sun, the Scottish TUC, the New Leaf Tea Shop, student newspapers and a children's theatre group. Even Prince Philip received a stiff letter. All of them backed down and many formally apologised in court. Well, if I were the BBC, I wouldn't broadcast the film either. I wouldn't want to risk damages, costs, injunctions and months in court. I wouldn't want to fight a case where the burden of proof was entirely on me and I would have to prove every allegation from primary sources. I wouldn't want to risk everything on one story. I would take notice of the long list of organisations that have apologised in the past. I might feel uneasy at ignoring such a high -profile case, but I would reassure myself that everyone else was ignoring it too. Which is why it is the libel laws that are the problem, rather than the broadcasters. In 1993 the law was altered so that governmental bodies such as local councils are no longer able to sue for libel. This was to protect people's right to criticise public bodies. Multinationals are fast becoming more powerful than governments - and even less accountable - so shouldn't the same apply? With advertising budgets in the billions, it's not as though they need to turn to the law to ensure their point of view is heard. There are signs that Parliament is getting the message. Two early-day motions entitled McDonald's And Censorship were sponsored by Jeremy Corbyn MP in 1994. But we are languishing far behind America, which has a constitutional right to freedom of speech. So I think that the many commentators who said McDonald's was stupid to sue Steel and Morris were wrong. The corporation was simply following a plan that has worked many times before. It had no way of knowing it was about to hit an immovable obstacle. In a sense, McDonald's only error was to pick on two of the most stubborn and committed people in the world (Source: Armstrong 1998 p.4).
Having been made over the whole ten year period (rather than looking back) the film is gripping and really involves you in the story. The case is boiled down to the essence and it is made surprisingly fluid and exciting as a result. The dramatisation of the courtroom scenes feels a bit cheap but still works - although it doesn't help that Morris, despite being natural and himself across the rest of the film, comes across as wooden and ‘acting’ in these bits. The bias in the presentation is there of course and if you disagree with them then this isn't the film for you. However, I saw them both as rather pretentious hippy sorts but yet I was still able to get behind them, learn the lessons and be inspired by them. And really ‘inspiration’ is the film's main strength because their story is amazing and it totally flies in the face of those who say ‘what difference does it make if I etc etc’; I still think that individuals are limited in day to day life but when the chips are down, if you can stand your ground it is possible to make a difference. Alongside this, the target audience will love the anti-Corporation thing. I'm not a protester or anti-Capitalist but it is satisfying to watch McD be taken down a peg – even more so now that we have spent the last year or so watch them start to lose ground, lose profits and many of the McLibel accusations be backed up over and over by many sources, to the point that most viewers will totally agree with the ‘lies’ that Morris and Steel were telling. Ideal viewing alongside the equally important (but a lot less serious) Super Size Me, this is a great documentary that makes up for the low budget feel by being gripping, entertaining and inspiring (Source: bob the moo 2005 np link).
In Canto 21 of the Inferno, Dante watches lawyers who made a habit of bringing frivolous or oppressive suits being perpetually submerged in a lake of boiling tar by demons with boathooks. They get off quite lightly, in other words. But perhaps hell of a different kind awaits on earth. It's called the Streisand effect. In 2003 Barbra Streisand's lawyers launched an action to have an aerial photograph of her home in Malibu removed from a collection of 12,000 such shots, whose purpose was to document coastal erosion. They demanded $50m in damages. Before they became involved, the photo was downloaded four times. In the month after they launched their stupid suit, it was downloaded 420,000 times. The Streisand effect, in other words, is blowback: disastrous unintended consequences of an attempt at censorship. The best-known example is Britain's famous McLibel case, in which McDonald's tried to sue two penniless activists. By 1997, when the longest civil case in British history concluded, McDonald's had suffered a devastating defeat in the court of public opinion (Source: Monbiot 2013 np link)..
I don’t subscribe to the environmentalists’ views, at least not fully, but this case was an astounding lapse of judgment for what can accurately be described as a corporate empire in that they thought that a seldom-seen leaflet warranted a ten-year legal war. There were many other, far less draining ways to deal with problems such as this, if it even was a problem to begin with (Source: oHelmslyo 2010 link).
A complete life changer. You will be a different person after you see this doc! (I mean that in a good way) (Source: BobbyJ 2005 np link).
McLibel made me want to boycott McDonald's, turn vegetarian and even punch a clown or two on principle. But most of all, it restored my faith that the power to shape public discourse really rests with the people and not the PR agents. I'm lovin' it (Source: Schneider 2005 np link).
An inspiring story, and an inspiring documentary (I really wish I’d made it!). It’s no-budget, so has no gloss and no tricks, and the two campaigners are very ordinary, but that just makes the whole thing all the more astounding. I’ve been following this story almost from the beginning of the court case, and I’m delighted that the film is still being seen and talked about (Source: AO 2010 link).
With so many doomsday, gloom and doom documentaries about how we're all being controlled by this government and that corporation with no end in sight I really enjoyed watching this film and it's positive message (Source: The man 2010 np link).
It's no secret that the world's most powerful companies like to throw their weight around, so it's quite invigorating to see a few normal folks stand up in the face of such overwhelming odds. I'm not saying I don't like a Chicken McNugget every once in a while, but it's always great to see a faceless, profit-centric corporation get knocked down a couple of pegs (Source: Weinberg 2005 np link).
Basically, it's an entirely fascinating tale of corporate malfeasance and the simple tenacity of a few brave nobodies. I've got no grudge against McDonald's personally (love those fries), but I took a small dose of satisfaction in seeing the corporate behemoth brought down with a swift case of humility (Source: Weinberg 2005 np link).
... when no-one would broadcast it, the publicity led to what Armstrong calls ‘cult status’ in Britain (Source: Maddox 1999 p.15).
It was a global success, seen by 18 million people (Source: Sharp 2009 np link).
... because I made my McLibel documentary independently, I was able to sell it wherever I wanted – and reached 22 million people (Source: Armstrong 2008 np link).
The 10-year ‘McLibel’ campaign is a good example of how a PR disaster can overshadow a legal triumph. For McDonald’s, winning the libel case against campaigners Helen Steel and David Morris was a disaster for the company’s image as it came across as deceptive and unnecessarily litigious (Source: Dickerson 2010 p.24).
... the big loser is McDonald's, who spends millions on a year-long trial and is crucified in the court of public opinion. Director Franny Armstrong makes McD's awkwardness and stupidity palpable (Source: Null 2005 np link).
[The] long term results of Steel’s and Morris’ engagement were that in the year 2004 the law was changed and McDonald’s image suffered an enormous loss (Source: film_riot 2007 np link).
The film is a david and goliath parable because Morris and Steel eventually won, in the European Court of Human Rights. As a result, McDonalds pulled its advertising in the vicinity of schools. A small but satisfying improvement in the UK's street scene (Source: Cousins 2011 np link).
When I started my first documentary, McLibel, I never for a moment thought it would have any effect on that immovable corporate mountain called McDonald's. I just found the story of two people daring to stand up to Big Mac enormously inspiring - and felt that others would too. But only ten years later - thanks also to Fast Food Nation, Jamie's School Dinners and Super Size Me - there has been a sea-change in public awareness about healthy eating, McDonald's UK profits have collapsed and advertising junk food to children is now banned (Source: Armstrong 2009 np link).
Perhaps if the impact of cinema is hard to quantify, it is not an indication of its failure to change the world, but of the occasionally insidious way in which it does so - not by changing the world, exactly, but by subtly changing the minds of the people in it. ‘We managed 25 million viewers for McLibel,’ says Armstrong. ‘For [our 3rd film] Age of Stupid we have many more resources and backing, so we're aiming for 10 times that number. If we do reach 250 million people, then so what? What influence could 250 million angry, inspired, motivated citizens possibly have?’ (Source: Jones 2011 p.9).
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Here, we re-create in Lego activists Helen Steel & Dave Morris leafleting a McDonalds restaurant in 1984 (click photo for more).
Compiled by Hannah Doherty, Rosie Benbow, Philippa Day, Meike Schwethelm, Hannah Griffiths and Alice Nivet, edited by Sabrina Skau and Ian Cook (last updated February 2013). Legoing by Sabrina Skau. Page created for followthethings.com as part of the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module, Exeter University. Trailer embedded with permission from Franny Armstrong, Spanner Films.