'Prosperity': Film Review

Manna for tree huggers.
9/29/2017

Mark van Wijk's documentary follows "urban monk" Pedram Shojai as he profiles companies and individuals engaged in socially conscious business practices.

"Real solutions." "Driven by purpose." "People primacy." If these annoying bumper sticker-style expressions make you nostalgic for Gwyneth Paltrow’s declaration that she and her husband Chris Martin were engaging in "conscious uncoupling," then Mark van Wijk’s documentary about sustainable business practices is for you. Especially considering that yet another phrase bandied about in the film is "conscious capitalism." Well-meaning to the extreme, Prosperity is the sort of high-minded cinematic primer that makes you immediately want to eat fast food and throw the non-degradable containers into a forest.

The film’s central figure is Pedram Shojai, who calls himself an "urban monk." It’s hard to say what the expression means, unless he’s one of those robe-wearing characters who approaches you on the streets of New York and asks for money. Sure enough, early in the proceedings, Shojai is shown walking through Times Square, offering the unique observation, "It’s so bright!"

Shojai then leads us on a wide-ranging travelogue featuring socially conscious companies which value sustainable practices and environmental concerns as much as profits. We learn that NYC’s ABC Carpet & Home uses natural products and an “ethical supply chain” and that Whole Foods strives to deliver organic products to its customers (although there’s no mention of the price gouging and health safety violations of which they’ve been accused).

Other companies profiled include Thrive Market, whose mission is to bring healthy food to non-urban markets; Rodale Publishing, whose founder promoted organic farming and which publishes the health magazine Prevention (and, by sheer coincidence, presumably, Shojai’s books); Guayaki, an organic beverage company helping to preserve rainforests; and CookFox, an architectural firm specializing in carbon-reducing skyscrapers.

And then there’s The Container Store, which apparently treats its employees really, really well. We learn this through shots of beaming workers in the warehouse and interviews with several of them, including one woman who testifies about how working there saved her marriage. Observing all this, Shojai weighs in as well. "I felt like I was at a family barbecue all day!" he enthuses about his visit.

Every individual and company spotlighted in Prosperity is certainly behaving in admirable fashion. We can all agree that the world would be a better place if there were more like them. But that doesn’t prevent the film from lapsing into tedium as it whizzes from one segment to another. It’s the sort of self-regarding, preachy documentary that should be sold in health food stores, not shown in theaters.

Production company: Urban Monk
Distributor: Well.org
Director-director of photography-editor: Mark van Wijk
Producer: Carl H. Lindahl
Executive producers: Pedram Shojai, Carl H. Lindahl
Composer: Jacob Thomas Czech

80 minutes

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