The prankster activist duo The Yes Men are back at it again. In the third installment of what has become a series or films chronicling the group's creative actions against corporations and institutions they see as harmful or exploitative, “The Yes Men Are Revolting” tackle climate change and the earth's worst offenders. But this time, in addition to direct action and comical, thought provoking bits of activist theater, the film delves deeper into the personal lives of The Yes Men themselves, following them out of survivaballs and thrift store suits to explore their backgrounds and day to day lives.
Climate change, said co-creator Mike Bonnano (Igor Vamos), is "obviously an issue of increasing importance, the worse it gets and the more time that goes by without dealing with it. It is sort of the mother of all problems. If we shift capitalism, if we stop rewarding profit and growth in the short term and start looking at our future, we could actually have a fighting chance."
The film opens with a “survivaball” flotilla as activists don inflatable round rubber costumes and attempt to set off into New York's East River, across from the United Nations, in an effort to bring attention to climate change. As the action fails to come to fruition, we see a smiling and joking Andy Bichlbaum (Jacques Servin) arrested by NYPD and placed in a patrol car.
Quickly the film shifts gears and revisits a prank from an earlier installment, in which the duo hosted a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington DC, posing as representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But rather than focusing exclusively on the stunt, the film brings the audience behind the action to show what specifically went into pulling it off – for example, placing a fake reporter at the scene to distract the actual Chamber of Commerce representative, who showed up to shut down the event. The stunt, which involved Bonanno appearing at the Chamber's headquarters garbed in a survivaball, led to a lawsuit against the group that was eventually dropped.
In addition to bringing us behind the scenes with these types of antics, "The Yes Men Are Revolting" offers something more. Through the lens of more conventional documentary-style story telling, the protagonists also become the subjects, with cameras following them as they return from their direct actions to their daily lives working as, unsurprisingly, educators. The film has "a more narrative arc [showing] what happened in our lives over the last five years," explains Bonnano, speaking in a recent interview with Occupy.com, "so it made sense to sort of turn that into the core of the film and what drives it."
As Mike and Andy return to their private lives following their direct actions – such as impersonating the Canadian delegation at the Copenhagen climate conference – we come to learn more about the day-to-day challenges of life as an activist. Both men remark on the loss of romantic relationships due to their commitment to The Yes Men. Mike struggles to maintain a presence in his home as the father to two (now three) young children, while Andy tries to balance his unflappable activist spirit with his day job as a teacher and his developing relationship with a new boyfriend.
Soon, we're watching as the pair falls into a rut questioning how worthwhile their activities have been and what actual impacts they have had – at what personal cost. But then, as the Arab Spring gives way to Occupy Wall Street, we see our prankster protagonists' resolve renewed as they join the ranks of Occupy protestors on the cold concrete of Zuccotti Park. There, The Yes Men blend rediscover their natural environment, organizing creative actions, joining in rallies and general assemblies, and even leading a clever subversive march that resulted in scores of police unwittingly marching on Wall Street as an Occupy working group bears signs reading “Executives and Police Against Wall Street.”
Following a series of clips that show the rising hostility between police and Occupy protestors, the film transitions to a first hand account of the effects of Hurricane Sandy on New York – starting with the two men as they troop up to Andy’s 19th floor apartment in the dark to sip beers and further their discussion about life as activists. Mike, realizing it's time to come back into the fold, joins Andy in touring the devastation of the city, and links up with members of Occupy Sandy who are working to help victims affected by the flood.
With the sight of entire neighborhoods demolished, personal relics from once proud homes strewn about in the mud and muck, and endless amounts of devastation surrounding them for miles, the grimness of the scene is perforated only by the pair’s attempt at levity and the encouragement of further actions by their comrades. Once again inspired, the two set forth on another ambitious stunt – this one involving a Homeland Security conference.
For The Yes Men, the hope is that their muckraking acts will not only entertain but inspire others. "We help build movements by getting the word out, by entertaining people and by recruiting people – by actually signing people up and trying to push [them] to do things that are a little bit more daring," says Bonnano. "You don't really need a majority [of people] by any means in order to have successful movements. I don't think any movement ever has really had a majority. It just requires a small percentage of people involved who are very dedicated to win, and I think that our role is to contribute to that in any way that we can."