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Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Film Review

Pink Ribbons Inc film still
Lea Pool/First Run Features

The Bottom Line

Provocative and well-argued doc criticizes mainstream breast cancer charities as "pinkwashes" that do far less than they could to end the disease

Director

Léa Pool

Screenwriters

Nancy Guerin, Patricia Kearns, Léa Pool

Provocative and well-argued doc criticizes mainstream breast cancer charities as "pinkwashes" that do far less than they could to end the disease.

Making a slew of excellent points many well-intentioned people won't want to hear, Léa Pool's Pink Ribbons, Inc. argues persuasively that much of what we're currently doing to fight breast cancer is feel-good nonsense or worse. It's easy to imagine exhibitors running scared from the doc, but auds who find it will be rewarded with a serious and provocative film.

Based on the book of the same name by Samantha King, the doc isn't what some viewers might expect: No mention is made of the controversy the Susan Komen foundation (the most prominently featured group here) has faced this year regarding Planned Parenthood, nor is the film an exposé claiming to find bureaucratic waste or fraud within a group that reportedly pays its CEO close to half a million dollars annually.

Instead the film, like its most convincing interviewees, prefers to tackle more complicated questions. It argues, counterintuitively but persuasively, that spending hundreds of millions on pursuing medical cures for cancer isn't nearly as promising as investing in prevention. It lambastes the onslaught of pink-branded consumer goods, whose purchase makes people feel they're doing something but often contributes little to the cause (while draping an ugly, hateful disease in the color of valentines and Disney princesses). Author Barbara Ehrenreich is particularly vocal on the latter point, noting (as do members of a stage-IV support group in Austin) how little comfort all that pastel iconography gave during her own experience with the disease.

More damningly, the film takes a scientific tack, noting that many of the corporations most closely associated with cancer-related charities owe much of their income to products made with carcinogens. Cosmetics companies try to look righteous while refusing to make safety studies of their wares public; auto manufacturers offer "cure"-themed cars made in factories whose workers suffer tremendous cancer rates.

Throughout, Pool juxtaposes well-reasoned, impassioned arguments from activists with images of various events and marketing pitches intended to make curing cancer seem as simple as buying the right yogurt or taking the weekend off to walk with like-minded women. Pool's footage emphasizes the cattle-like, cheerleading aspect of these events; though that effect is tempered late in the film by shots of individual marchers discussing their reasons for participating, walkers would be justified in complaining that the film portrays them as simpletons. (Or, when footage of slow-trudging demonstrators is paired with Peter Scherer's needlessly ominous score, as zombies.)

Then again, it's hard to fault Pool for not giving more credit to pink-clad crowds who are so loudly praised by Revlon, Avon, and other entities -- all crowing about the millions they've raised, but saying little about what their research has accomplished or how their own bottom lines might depend on chemicals many suspect have exacerbated cancer rates worldwide.

Bottom Line: Provocative and well-argued doc criticizes mainstream breast cancer charities as "pinkwashes" that do far less than they could to end the disease
Opens: Friday, June 1 (First Run Features)
Production Company: National Film Board of Canada
Director: Léa Pool
Screenwriters: Nancy Guerin, Patricia Kearns, Léa Pool
Producer: Ravida Din
Directors of photography: Sylvaine Dufaux, Daniel Jobin, Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky
Music: Peter Scherer
Editor: Oana Suteu Khintirian
No rating, 97 minutes