Caty Borum is a former Springfield resident and co-producer of the new documentary "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price." She has undertaken a number of social-issue media projects in the past, including co-directing "Declare Yourself," a project encouraging young people to vote, and co-directing television public service campaigns to raise HIV awareness in young people. Although the West Springfield High School graduate says "Springfield was a great place to grow up," she now lives in Los Angeles.
When and why did you get involved in filmmaking?
As someone who studied media and journalism in both undergraduate and graduate school, documentary film has always been one of my top professional goals. To me, documentary filmmaking represents the best of the research and investigative work of journalism, together with the creative process of visual storytelling through film, so it was always a perfect fit for me. At the very beginning of my career, I decided that I wanted to devote my professional life to work on social issue films and other media projects, so documentary film really is the best version of this to me. I am able to be a writer, a reporter, a producer, an investigator, and a storyteller.
How did you come to be involved in this project?
In March 2004, I produced and directed a short documentary about the manufacturing jobs crisis in the American Midwest, and as part of it, I traveled on a bus trip throughout Ohio, West Virginia, Minnesota, Iowa, and other states. In addition to hearing tragic stories about job loss as a consequence of outsourcing to overseas countries, I heard story after story about the devastating effects of Wal-Mart in these small towns. I came home from that project and started working on plans to produce a documentary about this issue, but I heard that Robert Greenwald was planning to make a film of his own about it, so I quickly met with him, offered my best producer skills, and was part of his small production team by November 2004.
What's the essential thesis of the film?
The general premise is that Wal-Mart is not a good corporate citizen, as evidenced through treatment of employees, the fact that taxpayers pick up the bill for employees to use government assistance through health care, the closing of family-owned businesses in small towns across the country, and the dominant use of overseas labor at the expense of American jobs. There is a ripple effect at the hands of the world's largest company, and the American people will all pay the price in the long-term. There is, indeed, a high price of "low cost" — and the costs to American citizens are hidden but could become crippling if this company continues to expand without scrutiny.
The documentary should make us all be concerned about the global and economic pace being set for all of us by one single company. Our own history with the Standard Oil and Rockefeller monopolies should serve as an example to make us wary about the long-term effects of a giant that remains unchallenged and unstopped.
What was your role as co-producer?
I was one of three producers who traveled around the country and around the world to research, interview subjects, and basically produce all the stories that make up the film. In this capacity, I traveled around the country for six months, for two and three weeks at a time. I would typically research and develop the stories we wanted to include from my office, and then fly to each area with a small crew, spending two weeks at a time to film peoples' lives, interview them, and basically become a temporary part of each community.
What's Wal-Mart's reaction been so far?
Wal-Mart has responded to the film with a very well-funded public relations campaign. Despite the company's attempts to attack the film, they have been caught in an unfortunate media situation, given that an internal memo leaked from the company a few weeks ago confirms many of the main points of the film — including that their employees are largely on government assistance for health care. Despite the attacks from the company's PR machine, literally thousands and thousands of people around the country, both Republicans and Democrats, are starting to catch on to the problems.
Explain the distribution of the film.
In addition to playing in theaters in major cities, including Washington, D.C., the film is being shown and distributed by individuals and concerned groups, including churches, small business associations, college student associations, "citizen action" neighborhood groups, and others. Because this is a film made for the people, we felt it was very important to give it to them directly to use for their own campaigns and efforts, knowing that they know their neighbors and constituents best.
My future plans include a few documentary films, including one about lower-income children in an amazing arts and writing program in a few big cities ... hopefully it will be a fun movie, kind of like "Spellbound" from a few years ago. I'm currently serving as a producer on a documentary TV series dealing with the convergence of environmental policy, local economies, and activists.
"Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low-Price" is available for purchase now, and is being screened nationwide. For more, or to find a screening, visit www.walmartmovie.com.