Berlin's European Film Market became the backdrop for yet another verbal battle between Wal-Mart and its filmmaker nemesis Robert Greenwald on Tuesday. The Greenwald-directed film "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price" made for hot sales but heated words at the market.
The verbal clash followed a similar series of jousts in the U.S. when Greenwald's film came out last year utilizing grassroots distribution, promotion via the Internet and home screenings to rack up DVD sales of more than 110,000 units. Wal-Mart countered with a campaign decrying the movie and providing access to brothers Ron and Robert Galloway to produce a countermeasure movie titled "Why Wal-Mart Works: And Why That Drives Some People Crazy."
On Tuesday, Greenwald claimed that some buyers are worried that the retail giant might retaliate against them. A Wal-Mart spokesman dismissed those claims as "preposterous."
"We have experienced some scared theatrical distributors," Greenwald insisted after a "Wal-Mart" screening here. "They are afraid that their other movies will be pulled from the (retailer's) shelves if they distribute my film."
Wal-Mart spokesman Olan James countered in an interview: "To say that we'd retaliate against a distributor for carrying this film is simply preposterous. We've chosen not to carry either film in our stores -- the (Galloways') pro-Wal-Mart documentary or this anti-Wal-Mart film. But we're confident that the public will be able to spot the glaring inaccuracies throughout the (latter) film."
He was referring to the situation that arose in the U.S. last year with the release of "Why Wal-Mart Works." Lightning Entertainment's Richard Guardian said initially eager buyers from Brazil, Japan and Mexico, where Wal-Mart is a growing retail force, said they were worried that buying the film could have negative commercial repercussions for their DVD distribution business.
According to its own figures, Wal-Mart operates about 2,400 stores outside the U.S. In some territories, the retailer is a major player. In the U.K., for example, Wal-Mart is the second-largest retailer with its chain of ASDA-brand stores.
Lightning Entertainment said it has inked deals at the European Film Market for Germany, the U.K. and Australia/New Zealand. Guardian said he expects to close on Spain, Benelux and France this week and that several European pubcasters also are circling.
"The response here at the Berlinale has been unbelievable," Guardian said. "The film addresses global issues, and people are fascinated with the U.S. society and culture."
The docu's claims of runaway capitalism make it a natural for many European territories. Wal-Mart stories have been front-page news in such places as Germany, France and the U.K.
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