(Double Exposure Film Festival)
Panamerican. Margaret Thatcher. The Iraq war. Incorrect Wikipedia edits. Fake news.
What they have in common is the public relations (PR) firm Bell Pottinger, headed by Lord Bell. The firm transformed everything the world knew about influence and using communication as a means of swaying the masses- effectively turning it into a weapon of mass control. The client list of the firm included names like the Pentagon, Asma al-Assad (First Lady of Syria) or the Chilean dictator Pinochet.
Directed by Richard Poplak and Diana Neille, “Influence” is akin to a ladder being built in front of the audience: every step brings an even bigger reveal. Watching it is an incredible journey which shows the power a few rich people can have over the public opinion, which in turn can influence everything from elections to war. The sums earned to sway various factions reached immense heights, totalling up to $540 million for their involvement in creating propaganda in the Iraqi war.
Speaking in the documentary, Lord Bell appeared nonchalant and intrigued, seemingly fascinated by his own journey and by that of the PR firm he headed. He was on good terms with Margaret Thatcher, for whom he headed three campaigns and his firm started advertising itself as a company one goes to when one needs their image “glossed”.
The documentary is successful because it can appeal to the large public while also having a few nuggets of in-depth analysis for those who want it. The information given, the introduction of each interviewee and the archive footage used complement one another. During interviews, the backgrounds are stripped of any distraction save for memorable landmarks that help the audience better ground the events. Interviewed by Jeremy Paxon, Lord Bell said that he was “a man with his own morality”, cementing his image as someone with a taste for winning.
The documentary unfolds what it means to use advertising and PR as a means to analyse and change behaviours rather than to inform.