TIFF 2014: Merchants of Doubt Review

Merchants of Doubt

TIFF Docs

Food, Inc. director Robert Kenner delves into the world of pundits-for-hire with the goal of pulling the metaphorical wool off of our eyes in this powerful documentary.

Based on the work of Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, the film investigates how a handful of individuals weave confusion and doubt into seemingly settled scientific debates using divertive tactics developed by the tobacco industry. Hired by corporations, think tanks and special interest groups, these skeptics wreak havoc and delay governmental action over issues such as toxic chemical use, acid rain, and most pertinently, climate change.

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The con, however, only works if the public buys into the churned falsehoods. Throughout the film, Kenner unmasks the purported experts’ shaky credentials and explores their motivations for not only behind telling the lie, but also accepting it.

With a lesser director at the helm, this could have been a frustrating experience. Faced with proof that they’ve been deceived (often with their own permission), viewers could have left the movie feeling ridiculed, defensive, and impotent. The film instead comforts the audience by telling them that being informed is enough to stop the lie’s perpetuation. Kenner achieves this effect by slyly analogizing the skeptics’ acts to those of card sharks, suggesting that once the unethical trick is revealed, the mark never falls for the same mistake again.

In addition to the skillful message delivery, the film is stylistically smart, using polished graphics, slick imagery, and great song choices to supplement the talking head. It’s an excellent, important, and informative movie. (Elena Lowe)

Screens

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Tuesday, September 9th, 9:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Wednesday, September 10th, 8:30am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3


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Thanks to SPiN TORONTO for sponsoring our TIFF 2014 coverage.

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