Suited participants chat and cast furtive looks around for the most advantageous person to approach, all while one man stands awkwardly amongst the informal throng, looking less than thrilled to be there. It could be any corporate networking happy hour — except this standoffish figure is Brazil’s new president Jair Bolsonaro, and the venue is the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss resort town of Davos, an annual, invitation-only meeting accessible to only the most influential of global leaders and business elites. Bolsonaro is cornered, separately, by Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan and US Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore, who each express concern for the Amazon. Distrust bristles, barely veiled, under civil exchanges. Gore makes a faux pas by name-dropping a former military enemy of Bolsonaro’s as a mutual acquaintance; the subtext is unmissable when Bolsonaro, who regards conservation efforts as a threat to sovereignty, states he values the rainforest as a «resource». «We are not enemies, we just need to talk,» Bolsonaro tells Gore. «I am always eager to talk,» he replies. Words have scarcely felt so futile and hollow.
It is an eye-opening peek inside the WEF, which, in its fifty-year history has not allowed any independent film teams access behind the scenes — until this documentary from German director Marcus Vetter. The Forum is no glossy promotional vehicle for the WEF. It steps carefully, avoiding an overtly critical stance, but it does raise the question of whether the event’s model of civil niceties and polite discussions nudging at social change have failed, or are becoming obsolete in a newly populist era of brazen power. Have global affairs reached a state of urgency that requires stronger, bolder oppositional confrontation than mere talk? Greenpeace’s Morgan says the forum, which claims impartiality, is a complicit «sideshow» used by morally corrupted elites to generate positive PR, while they cynically continue business as usual — a «bubble of mega-groupthink» all the more dangerous because its rhetoric is that of making the world a better place. She suggests that of the participants (Nestle, under fire for its water policy, and Monsanto, slammed for its hybrid seeds, designed to be used only once in a bid to up profits, …
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