Pink Ribbons, Inc.
Directed by Lea Pool
Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a polemic against companies using the famous breast cancer awareness campaign for their own self-image rather than sincere attempts towards research and prevention, but it contains more anger than it arouses. Buying branded merchandise may not be the most efficient way for customers to contribute, but the film contains no bombshells for anyone who knows how public relations or marketing works.
This is an overlong film whose litany of complains get progressively weaker as it goes on. It may be true that the campaign's focus on optimism and survival ignores patient feelings of anger and helplessness towards being sick (one talking head hyperbolically refers to it as a "tyranny of cheerfulness"), but does anyone honestly think a pessimistic strategy would be as successful? Is it really immoral that pharmaceutical companies would want to discover a cure so they could sell it?
The film makes some worthwhile points, noting how some ribbon-branded products hypocritically contain chemicals linked to cancer, but all those would comfortably fit into a standard-length newspaper article. At almost 100 minutes, it is more padding than substance, filled with whole commercials and endless shots of cancer walks that only serve to dilute the message. Interviews with cancer patients are moving but want for context and insight. There's no shape in the editing, and the slightest discretion with clips or sidetracks into speculation about what causes cancer could have turned this into a far more compelling short.
Companies using a charitable cause for their own benefit more than the cause's presents an interesting ethical question, but director Lea Pool never does a convincing job of addressing the obvious arguments against her thesis. Yes, a highly publicized campaign may do more for Yoplait than the cause, but it does promote awareness and result in funding. Pink Ribbons often skirts close to arguing that it would be better to do nothing.
Opens June 1 at IFC Center