Last night, longtime collaborators Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan joined Film Independent artistic director Jacqueline Lyanga at the Arclight Hollywood following a screening of GREED, Winterbottom’s new satire.
The film follows the money and the clothes as a London-based mogul builds a fast-fashion empire on the backs of overseas workers, working elaborate (but legal) self-enrichment schemes by stripping his companies of their assets just before filing for bankruptcy. To celebrate (and distract competitors), he hosts an over-the-top party in Greece.
In a filmmaker’s letter, Winterbottom explains GREED’s genesis and what he hopes audiences will take away from the experience:
In 2016, Britain’s most famous and flamboyant retailer—Sir Philip Green, owner of Topshop and Topman—was hauled before the House of Commons select committee and quizzed about his business practices. That was the starting point for making GREED.
Retail fashion is a huge industry, which employs tens of millions of workers in low wage economies like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Vietnam—the vast majority of them women.
The brands are owned by some of the richest men in the world. Stefan Persson, the owner of H&M, is worth about $20 billion; Amancio Ortega, the owner of Zara, is worth more than $60 billion.
GREED is a fiction, a satire on the world of Sir Richard McCreadie [played by Steve Coogan], a retail fashion tycoon, the “King of the High Street.” His reputation has suffered a blow as one of his brands has gone bankrupt. He has been hauled over the coals by the Select Committee of the House of Commons and they are threatening to take away his Knighthood.
So he decides to throw a lavish, Roman-themed party on the Greek island of Mykonos, and invite his celebrity friends. But it all goes horribly wrong.
One of the attractions, and challenges, of making the film was to show the real connections between the billionaire relaxing on his super yacht in Monaco and the women we filmed with in Sri Lanka, who are being paid $5.30 a day making clothes for international brands, and living in accommodations with no running water. They seem to live in different worlds, but they are in fact intimately connected, as the clothes that these women make have created the wealth of Sir Rich and his real world counterparts.
I hope our film is funny, and I hope you enjoy it, but I also hope it makes you angry. No matter how ludicrous our fictional world is, it pales in comparison to the real world. When we walk into a high street store we see images of powerful, beautiful people endorsing the brand, or modeling the clothes. We aspire to be like them, and we think of them when we buy the t-shirt or the dress, when really we should be thinking of the women who have made our clothes and the lives they lead. The world doesn’t need to be like this. We can change things. Doubling the wages of women garment workers would hardly make any difference to the price of the clothes in our local store—so why don’t we do something about it? — Michael Winterbottom
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Michael Winterbottom, Greed (2020), from top: Steve Coogan; Michael Winterbottom (second from top) and Coogan (above) on February 27, 2020, at the Film Independent Screening Series of Greed at the ArcLight Hollywood, photographs by Amanda Edwards / Getty Images; film poster; Coogan (below, photograph by Amelia Troubridge) in Greed. Images courtesy and © the filmmaker, the actors, the photographers, Sony Pictures Classics, Getty Images, and Film Independent.