2020 Sundance Docs in Focus: INFLUENCE

INFLUENCE | Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Mark Bugyra

INFLUENCE
Diana Neille and Richard Poplak detail the rise and fall of disgraced PR/reputation management firm Bell Pottinger.

Festival Section:
World Cinema Documentary Competition

Country:
South Africa/Canada

Sundance Program Description:

This story of influence and weaponized communication centers on the infamous Lord Tim Bell and his associates, known for their controversial geopolitical spin-doctoring. Bell, who started his career in advertising, had an affinity for difficult briefs and “people with problems,” as he liked to call them. He designed campaigns for unpopular politicians, dictators, disgraced companies, and celebrities the same way he put together product branding – by being concise and brutal. In 1987 he cofounded Bell Pottinger, which quickly became one of the most influential reputation management companies in the world – until one of those campaigns incited racial division in South Africa and ruined BP’s reputation to a degree beyond spinning. Its cause of death was shrewdly described by the New York Times as “acute embarrassment.”

Using a fascinating blend of archival footage and interviews with Bell and the people who worked with, for, or against him, filmmakers Diana Neille and Richard Poplak conduct an impressively thorough investigation into the politicization of modern communication. INFLUENCE is terrifyingly relevant in our current era of alternative facts and theatrical politics.

Some Background:

Directors/Writers:

  • Diana Neille

    Neille is a South African journalist who founded Chronicle, a commercial/branded content production agency and subsidiary to the Daily Maverick which enables the production of long-form and investigative journalism. This marks her feature directorial debut.

  • Richard Poplak
    Poplak is an acclaimed South African political correspondent and serves as the editor-at-large of the Daily Maverick. This also is his directorial debut.

Producers:

  • Bob Moore
    Past Sundance docs:

    ANOTE’S ARK (2018)
    TOKYO IDOLS (2017)
    CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT (2012)
    LAST TRAIN HOME (2010)

    Moore is the Emmy-winning co-president of acclaimed Montreal documentary production company EyeSteelFilm. He also executive produced fellow 2020 Sundance World Cinema Documentary Competition title SOFTIE and New Frontier exhibition CHOMSKY VS CHOMSKY: FIRST ENCOUNTER.

  • Neil Brandt

    Brandt is the CEO of South African development and production company StoryScope, which fosters authentic African storytellers for the global market.

Executive Producers:

  • Mila Aung-Thwin
    Past Sundance docs:

    ANOTE’S ARK
    TOKYO IDOLS
    CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT
    LAST TRAIN HOME
    UP THE YANGTZE

    The Emmy-winning Aung-Thwin is one of the founders of EyeSteelFilm. He also executive produced and edited this year’s SOFTIE.

  • Daniel Cross
    Past Sundance docs:

    ANOTE’S ARK
    TOKYO IDOLS
    CHINA HEAVYWEIGHT
    LAST TRAIN HOME
    UP THE YANGTZE

    Cross is a co-founder of EyeSteelFilm, through which he has also won Emmy Awards. He also executive produced this year’s SOFTIE.

  • Thandi Davids

    Davids is head of development at StoryScope with extensive experience in broadcast and production in South Africa.

Editor:

  • Ryan Mullins

    Mullins is a Canadian editor who has cut past EyeSteelFilm productions. He also edited SOFTIE.

Why You Should Watch:
Offering insight into how our perceptions are shaped by outside forces, Neille and Poplak’s informative film delves into the career of Lord Tim Bell to detail how Bell Pottinger played a pivotal role in shaping public opinion – and subverted democracy – through amoral image politics and divisive information warfare.

More Info:
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For Sundance screening dates and times, click the film title in the first paragraph.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Recommendations, Sundance

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