Films on Capitalism


Commanding Heights:
The Battle for the World Economy

Documentary 2002 NR 360 minutes. Based on the best-selling book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, this three-part PBS documentary series is the story of how the new global economy was born. It traces the rise of free markets during the last century, as well as the process of globalization. There are three segments – 1. “The Battle of Ideas” (primarily between Capitalism and Communism);  2. “The Agony of Reform” (after the end of Communism)  3. “The New Rules of the Game” (of Globalization). See Full Review

The Wall
A World Divided

Documentary 2010 NR 55 minutes. With insights from political leaders like George H.W. Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Condoleezza Rice, explore the origins and demise of the notorious Berlin Wall, the structure’s affect on ordinary German lives and the peaceful end to the Cold War. Full of detailed information, this historical PBS documentary explains the stark differences between East and West Germany and their process of reunification.

Burning Wall

Documentary 2002 NR. Hava Kohav Beller’s documentary examines dissent within East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Despite being subject to government surveillance and made to endure psychological warfare from the secret police force known as the Stasi, opponents of the totalitarian state saw their numbers continue to swell. Candid interviews with former dissidents and Stasi agents reveal the events leading up to the regime’s collapse in 1989.

After the Wall
A World United

Documentary 2011 NR 55 minutes. After serving as a geographic and ideological divide for 40 years, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, bringing the reunification of Germany and an end to the Cold War. This documentary revisits the events surrounding the wall’s historic collapse. Interviews with major players such as George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev and Helmut Kohl offer insight into political maneuverings while firsthand accounts from Germans provide personal perspectives.

Poland – The Morning After

Documentary Frontline 1990. In the summer of 1989, Poland astonished the world by starting the revolution which has swept Eastern Europe. Solidarity, the once-banned independent trade union, took power in a coalition government ending 45 years of Communist repression. In this report, Frontline examines a society attempting something which has never been done-changing overnight from Communism to capitalism.

China Rises
Behind the Great Wall

Documentary 2008 NR 2 discs. China’s shift from secluded land of mystery to global economic powerhouse is explored in this compelling documentary about the country’s progress, power and people. With unprecedented access, the Discovery Times Channel’s cameras capture every aspect of this dynamic country, from the Shanghai Film Festival to a factory floor, a Great Wall rock concert to the legacy of Tiananmen Square and preparations for the 2008 Olympics.

Young & Restless in China

Documentary 2008 NR 106 minutes. Helmed by Sue Williams, this eye-opening documentary follows a cross section of Chinese entrepreneurs, pacesetters and struggling Gen-Xers swept up in a bubbling cauldron of rapid social and economic transition. Profiling a handful of people — including an activist attorney, a hotelier and a downtrodden rap artist — the film charts their trajectories over the course of four years and looks at how the sweeping transformations are affecting them.

The Capitalism Paradox

Lectures TEDTalks 2011 NR 17 Episodes.  As the world economy muddles through “the great recession,” how will capitalism reinvent itself? TED speakers place their bets and discuss prosperity.  As a believer in a mixed economy, capitalism with constraints, and in some cases a supporter of what is disparagingly called a “socialist” solution, I had hoped that the series would address some of the more contentious parts of Friedman and Laissez-faire head on, and set the stage for a direct assault on some of the sacred cows of capitalism (trickledown economics, income distribution issues, the limits of privatization etc).  Nevertheless, the series in its entirety gives a range of concepts, problems, solutions, and approaches that at least give rise to thinking about the meaning of capitalism in the modern world.
1 Niall Ferguson: The Six Killer Apps of Prosperity
2 Shashi Tharoor: Why Nations Should Pursue ‘Soft’ Power
3 Jacqueline Novogratz on Patient Capitalism
4 Stefan Sagmeister: The Power of Time Off
5 Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice
6 Nic Marks: The Happy Planet Index
7 Alain de Botton: A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success
8 Halla Tomasdottir: A Feminine Response to Iceland’s Financial Crash
9 Naomi Klein: Addicted to Risk
10 Matt Ridley: When Ideas Have Sex
11 Paul Collier on the Bottom Billion
12 Benjamin Wallace on the Price of Happiness
13 Rachel Botsman: The Case for Collaborative Consumption
14 Chip Conley: Measuring What Makes Life Worthwhile
15 Martin Jacques: Understanding the Rise of China
16 John Gerzema: The Post-Crisis Consumer
17 Auret van Heerden: Making Global Labor Fair


A Love Story

Documentary 2009 R 127 minutes. Filmmaker Michael Moore (Sicko, Fahrenheit 9/11) takes on capitalism’s roots, the floundering U.S. economy, and 2008’s global financial meltdown and subsequent bank bailout in this rousing documentary. Combining stories about those who suffer most from Corporate America’s greed and insatiable thirst for profits and the people most responsible for myriad crises, Moore embarks on another shocking fact-finding rampage.

John Perkins: Speaking Freely Vol. 1

Lecture 2007 NR. Author and former economic consultant John Perkins takes aim at himself, confessing his shameful role in helping organizations such as World Bank and the IMF drive poor nations into crippling debt while enriching U.S. corporations. His social conscience awakened, Perkins finally got fed up and quit his job. Now, he runs a successful nonprofit group that works to help indigenous peoples protect and strengthen their environments and cultures. See Full Review

Apology of an Economic Hit Man

Documentary 2008 NR. Stelios Koul records the confessions of author John Perkins in this documentary. Perkins alleges he was part of a clandestine team of economic “hit men” who worked to exploit poor countries in the 1970s on behalf of the United States government. His claims are backed by authentic propaganda films as well as dramatized reenactments of top-secret events he says took place behind a thick veil of secrecy.

The End of Poverty?

Documentary 2008 NR 104 minutes. Exploring the history of poverty in developing countries, filmmaker Philippe Diaz contends that today’s economic inequities arose as a result of colonization, military conquest and slavery, with wealthier countries seizing the resources of the poor. Narrated by Martin Sheen, this absorbing documentary includes interviews with numerous historians, economists and sociologists who shed light on the ongoing conditions that contribute to poverty. See Full Review

Let’s Make Money

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr 47m Let’s Make Money is not about how to make money. This film traces money as it goes through the global finance system — exposing policies and practices affecting the worldwide economy. This film is about the billions, trillions of dollars that go to selfish human greed and not to basic human need. This shows the planetary marketplace from all perspectives: wealthy investors, business owners, bankers, laborers, activists, government officials, impoverished people — from all around the globe. See Full Review

The Century of the Self

Documentary series 2002.   Adam Curtis’ acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.  To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? “Century of the Self” tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?  The Freud dynasty is at the heart of this compelling social history. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis; Edward Bernays, who invented public relations; Anna Freud, Sigmund’s devoted daughter; and present-day PR guru and Sigmund’s great grandson, Matthew Freud.  Sigmund Freud’s work into the bubbling and murky world of the subconscious changed the world. By introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud provided useful tools for understanding the secret desires of the masses. Unwittingly, his work served as the precursor to a world full of political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society’s belief that the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness is man’s ultimate goal.

Episode One: Happiness Machines,  Season 1 Episode 1,  58 min.

The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He called it “engineering consent”.  He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.  Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticizing the motorcar. His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.  It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.  Since propaganda was helpful in wartime, he believed similar mass persuasion could also be used in peacetime for different purposes.  But the Germans in WWI had given the term “propaganda” a bad name, so Bernays came up with an new term for propaganda: “public relations”.  One of his first clients was the tobacco industry, and his first achievement was a campaign that overcame the taboo against women smoking, and persuaded women to smoke cigarettes in public.  He asked one of the new psychoanalysts what cigarettes mean to women, who said that cigarettes are a symbol of the penis and male sexual power, and if he could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, then women would smoke, because then they would have their own penis (as unbelievable as that sounds).  So he arranged for debutantes to smoke during the Easter Parade in NYC, creating scandalous publicity, claiming they were suffragettes lighting up what he called “torches of freedom”.


Documentary Frontline 1983. Developing countries have borrowed hundreds of billions of dollars from Western banks. Some of the biggest borrowers, Brazil and Mexico,are struggling even to repay the interest. Correspondent Anthony Sampson finds that threats to repudiate the loans are causing American bankers to fear financial catastrophe.

Life and Debt

Documentary 2001 NR 86 minutes. Director Stephanie Black’s documentary examines how policies of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other aid organizations have altered the Jamaican economy over the past 25 years, leaving the locals to struggle in poverty. Author Jamaica Kincaid narrates passages from her book on the topic, A Small Place, with Belinda Becker to a reggae soundtrack that includes songs by Bob Marley, Ziggy Marley, Mutubaruka and Peter Tosh.

Brazil: Cutting the Wire
Witnessing a Land Occupation

Documentary Frontline / World 2005. Nearly half of Brazil’s farmland is owned by 1 percent of the population — a glaring inequality in a nation known for its stark division between rich and poor. This week on Rough Cut, we travel to a dusty patch of rural Brazil where Frontline/World Fellows Adam Raney and Chad Heeter witness a land occupation by a thousand poor people and activists who take over a strategic corner of a ranch about an eight-hour drive west of Sao Paulo.

Brazil: Guns for Hire
Fighting for a Share of the Land

Documentary Frontline / World 2009. Reporter Siri Schubert travels to Brazil to investigate how a clash between the giant Swiss agribusiness Syngenta and Brazil’s landless movement left two men dead and exposed a long and violent battle for land reform in South America’s richest country.

The Devil’s Miner

Documentary 2005 NR 1hr 22m. Filmmakers Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani pan their cameras beneath the surface of Bolivia’s Cerro Rico silver mines, a place so dark, depressing and frightening that locals believe it’s the devil’s home. Chronicling the daily ordeal of 14-year-old breadwinner Basilio Vargas — who chews coca leaves on his way to work to numb his persistent, primordial terror — this somber documentary captures the hellish realities of fear.

Internationally Speaking

Documentary 2005 NR 90 minutes. In this documentary, voices from around the world address America and its foreign policy, sharing their opinion of the world’s only “superpower,” its government, its foreign policy and its people. In the midst of growing international anti-Americanism, real people tell Americans what they think and why in an attempt to further understanding and compassion. Features Medea Benjamin, Noam Chomsky and Michael Ratner. Christine Rose directs.

Power Trip

Documentary 2003 NR 86 minutes. Filmmaker Paul Devlin objectively documents the multifaceted story of a country trying to rebuild itself amid a changing political landscape. Accustomed to getting their electricity for free, the residents of Tbilisi, the capital of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, are suddenly faced with shelling out money for power. Can the American energy company now running things persuade the disgruntled populace that it’s the right thing to do?

Bolivia: Leasing the Rain

Documentary Frontline World 2002. In Bolivia, a private consortium, dominated by the Bechtel Corporation of San Francisco, had taken over Cochabamba’s water system in 2000 and raised water rates. Protestors blamed Bechtel for trying to “lease the rain.” A popular protest there turned into a deadly riot. The army battled civilians in the streets on and off for three months, hundreds were arrested, a seventeen year-old boy was shot and killed, the government of Bolivia nearly collapsed. The water warriors who ousted Bechtel took control of the water system, vowing to run it as a human right, not as a commodity. See also Even the Rain.

Even the Rain
(También la Lluvia)

Drama 2010 NR 1hr42m. While making a film about the incursion of Christopher Columbus into the New World, a director finds the Bolivian locals protesting modern exploitation, as the filming occurs simultaneously with the Bolivian water war in the year 2000. Very interesting premise of a film crew making an ‘anti-imperialist’ historical film in Bolivia and encountering fierce local struggles against exploitation and oppression.  It’s nice to see an entertaining drama and thought-provoking treatment of issues you typically see only in a documentary. An important film for our time. See also Leasing the Rain.

Last Train Home

Documentary 2009 NR 90 minutes. Documentarian Lixin Fan follows a couple who, like 130 million other Chinese peasants, left their rural village for work in the city, leaving their children to be raised by grandparents, returning only once a year on an arduous 1,000-mile journey.

Death by China

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 19m. This frank documentary chronicles the growing power and global ambitions of China, and concludes that its strength threatens America’s own future. Starting with the agreement in 2001 which allowed China into the World Trade Organization, this movie recounts trends to the present. This is an excellent, frank look at China’s unethical business practices since joining the WTO. It makes some valid points about the negative effects that our trade agreements with China have had. Much of the film is about the manner in which multi-national corporations headquartered in the US exploited free trade agreements for their own short term interests, at the expense of the greater good for the US economy. The documentary makes it clear that the multinationals coupled with their successful lobbying groups have made it easier to move our manufacturing to China.  See Full Review

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