TIFF 2011: Pink Ribbons Inc. takes corporate cause marketing to task

Lea Pool

Léa Pool’s message in Pink Ribbons Inc. is direct: cause-marketing campaigns by big corporations to raise money for breast cancer research are cashing in on misery.

But the method by which the National Film Board of Canada documentary, which is bowing this weekend at TIFF, conveys that message is anything but direct.

Pool told Playback Daily that she chose to let Pink Ribbons Inc. unfold slowly, from opening scenes of men and mostly women happily running to raise money for a breast cancer cure, before finally bringing in talking-heads to accuse cynical corporations of selling people products with pink ribbons slapped on them.

“I wanted to take the hand of someone, to take them from one place to another,” she explains. “The aim of the film is to change the vision of people. And if you go too direct, and say all that you see is bad, people will not listen.”

Pink Ribbons Inc. is based on Samantha King’s book of the same name, which investigates how breast cancer has become the poster child of corporate cause marketing.

NFB producer Ravida Din approached Pool to direct the screen adaptation, with an eye to revealing the history behind corporations entering the charity game.

Pink Ribbons Inc. reveals how U.S. president Ronald Reagan and UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher first gave corporations incentives to become good citizens and participate in society and its social welfare.

“But did it allow governments to abdicate their own role in society?” Din questions, echoing the film.

However much the film ends on a note of militancy over the commercialization and globalization of breast cancer, Pool says she still strove to be even-handed.

“I felt all this ambiguity myself; it’s not an easy subject,” she recalls. “It’s very complex. You have to say it the right way. It took seven months to edit the film to get the right balance.”

Pink Ribbons Inc. debuts on Sunday at the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto.