Pink Ribbons, Inc. is guaranteed to shock anyone who thinks that pink ribbon fund-raising is innocent -- or even useful in either preventing or curing breast cancer.
Directed by veteran Quebec filmmaker Lea Pool, Pink Ribbons, Inc. is an English-language, Canadian-made documentary from the National Film Board of Canada. It plays as good investigative journalism. It is based on six years of planning and three years of research.
Despite engaging all sides of the issue, it tells us something we may not want to hear.
But, if docs are meant to intelligently generate debate about social and political issues of the day, then Pool's painstaking collaboration with producer (and breast cancer survivor) Ravida Din does its job -- with courage and conviction.
At its core, the film invokes the cautionary Think Before You Pink slogan coined by Breast Cancer Action, a grassroots activist group. Pool orchestrates a rigorous expose on the cynicism behind what has become a high-energy, politically correct industry.
The research shows that some corporations deliberately exploit pink for their own selfish gain. Some of these companies "pinkwash" their sales efforts for a wide range of products from yogurt to guns, yet donate little or none of their profits to cancer research.
Other companies attach pink ribbon labels to products -- especially cosmetics -- that activists believe contain chemicals that may cause cancer.
Meanwhile, the breast cancer research industry fails to account for where the staggering amounts of money go. Plus, there is too little to show for years of work. The film, essentially, shouts: Show Me the Money!
Most critically of all, Pool visit a group of Stage IV breast cancer victims for their point of view. These are women with no hope of survival. There are no drugs or surgery that can save them. These are people who are not blinded by pink, and agree with one of the experts that breast cancer research has been taken over by "a tyranny of cheerfulness."
Pool's cameras show what that "tyranny" is all about, without criticizing the millions of women and men who annually participate in pink ribbon fund-raisers throughout the world (although the film's primary focus is on Canada and the U.S.). Typically, as we see and hear, the campaigns are like a political rally or a college sports event. Loud music, relentless cheerleading and personal I-had-cancer-and-survived accounts are designed to boost the spirits of those who walk, or run, or do something to raise money.
At the same time, the film methodically tries to investigate what the cancer research industry is actually doing. Prevention is given short shrift; drug companies could not profit.
Cures are emphasized; but researchers are notoriously secretive. There is a ridiculous amount of repetition in their projects. There is almost no effective coordination of the research either on a national or international level. There is no accountability. The truth may be a medical scandal of epic proportions.
The result: Thousands of women still get breast cancer. Some of them die. The film asks: Why?