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.
Diana Neille and Richard Poplak
South Africa, Canada
(English and Spanish)