McLibel by Franny Armstrong

First published by Peace News in July 2005 – Issue 2463

Breaking open the ShamBurgers

A review of the McLibel DVD, directed by Franny Armstrong.

Unbelievably Spanner Films have done the impossible. By putting what should already be a multi-award winning documentary on to DVD, they have made it even better.

McLibel tells the story of how a postman and a gardener took on one of the largest and some would say insidious corporations on the planet in a desperately unfair struggle. As well as fighting McDonalds through the British courts without any legal representation in the longest libel trial in British history they then went on to take the British government to the European Court of Human Rights for denying them the right to a fair trial.

Among the very many other roles this DVD fulfils it is at once both a master class in zero-budget documentary making and a “what-to-expect” handbook for anyone starting a fight with a trans-national corporation.

As well as the original 52 minute version of the documentary from 1997 the double disc DVD also contains the 85 minute feature length version released this year, with commentaries by Franny Armstrong the Director/ Producer, Helen and David, the drama director Ken Loach and David’s son Charlie. And if that wasn’t enough there are the 4 hours of extras including the secret settlement meeting between Helen and David and the McDonald’s executives and of course the 21 special features including the original leaflet that so riled Ronald.

These two DVD’s are literally crammed full of additional information and footage, with complete interviews, scenes that didn’t make it to the final cut, press conferences, TV rejection letters. The list just goes on and on.

This DVD is not just about 2 personalities, nor is it just a class in documentary making. It is a phenomenal extension to the documentary itself, taking you into the realms of the people involved, the processes, the history, the difficulties of not just making the documentary but the McLibel struggle itself.

While watching the documentary it is often difficult to see beyond Helen Steel and David Morris, these two extraordinary and desperately committed people who took a stand for all of us in defence of our freedom of speech. But it is in the extensive and far-reaching nature of this DVD that Franny Armstrong is introduced. The resourcefulness, talent and commitment of the Director/ Producer in the making of this no-budget documentary are a joy to watch. She complements David and Helen’s tenacity with a seldom seen single mindedness to document complete events in the modern media.

For all our sakes go out and buy this DVD, it would be a marvellous thing if it out sold ShamBurgers for just a little while.