Influence, the award-winning feature-length documentary film charting the rise and fall of the infamous London-based PR firm, Bell Pottinger, has travelled the world since its premiere at Sundance Film Festival in 2020 and is now available to watch for free in Nigeria.

Directed by South African journalists and filmmakers Richard Poplak and Diana Neille, Influence is a David and Goliath tale of ordinary people facing off against a powerful corporation with near-infinite resources — an imbalance that has become all too familiar globally. The film serves as a terrifying reminder of the dangers that lurk within the post-truth era, in which masters of disinformation use new digital tools to wage ancient propaganda wars — undermining the very fabric of democratic societies. Nigerians have firsthand experience of this infowar, with President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration recently facing off with activists and free-press advocates over the banning of Twitter.

Speaking on the purpose of the film, co-director, Diana Neille, stated: “After following the story deep into the roots of modern geopolitical spin-doctoring, we discovered the fingerprints of Bell Pottinger’s founder, Lord Tim Bell, on many of the world’s most formative political campaigns. We felt that if our viewers comprehensively travelled Bell’s journey since the 1970s, we would end up telling the story of influence and how it helped establish what we now call the post-truth era. It’s the context in which so many democracies around the world are now floundering.”

Influence by Neil Brandt and Bob Moore

Produced by Neil Brandt of Storyscope (SA) and Bob Moore of EyeSteelFilm (Canada), Influence takes its cue from the #GuptaLeaks, a trove of emails investigated by a team from South Africa’s Daily Maverick, amaBhungane and News24. In mid-2017, they exposed Bell Pottinger’s role in engineering a racially divisive PR campaign designed to benefit the notorious Gupta family, the underworld financiers of the former president, Jacob Zuma. Several months later, due to unrelenting pressure from the media, civil society, opposition politicians and South African citizens, the once-unbeatable multinational was forced to close its doors. 

The producer of the film, Neil Brandt of Storyscope, had this to say, “As storytellers from the Global South who have always tried to speak truth to power. INFLUENCE puts a uniquely African narrative at the centre of a global debate around the nature of truth in a world in which fact and fiction appear interchangeable. As Leonard Cohen put it, ‘there are cracks in everything — that’s how the light gets in.”

To watch this film, visit influence.film, where there are also additional resources to get educated and informed about contemporary political disinformation, its origins and how to guard against it. The film and website have been made available to access for free across Africa and the UK, in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

Influence is an official South African/Canadian co-production, with backing from the Blue Ice Docs, Hot Docs Partners Fund, the Rogers Cable Network Fund, the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles, the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, and Canada Media Fund. Broadcast rights are currently held by Arte (France/Germany), Documentary Channel (Canada) and eTV (SA). Cinetic Media is handling world sales. 

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