There is no publicly stated price you must pay to WeRiseUP to host a screening of its movie at your school, community or company, although the end goal of the “movement” is clearly centered around such events. The movie, also titled WeRiseUP, functions as a feel-good advertisement for the program, which seems to merge classic motivational speaker points like following your passions, working hard and being smart with money with a charismatic contemporary delivery. It promises at the top not to be a boring old movie about how bad things are and, through interviews with various successful businesspeople, tries to hype up the viewer into taking unspecified action to change the world.
Director Michael Shaun Conaway interviewed over a hundred subjects over the course of several years to create the documentary. He covers dozens of them within a relatively scant runtime. It’s equivalent to watching a day of TED Talks smashed into a single hour. The result is a shallow feel-good ode to the upper-middle-class, the benefits of being rich and how being wealthy affords you the free time to pursue other goals.
Speakers range from known public figures to individuals who have made their living behind the scenes. The Dalai Lama is first billed; British entrepreneur Richard Branson makes an appearance; John Mackey of Whole Foods has a lot to say about following your passions. Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes, discusses the charitable portion of his shoe line. Moby the musician shows up, too, to chime in on his impoverished upbringing and how that affected his worldview as an adult. To their credit, WeRiseUP brought in a diverse group of speakers, although admittedly I don’t know who most of them are and don’t have any intention of following up to learn more.
That isn’t to say WeRiseUP doesn’t have its heart in the right place. It simply doesn’t have the time or real estate to really function as a movie about anything about why these successful people have signed their names onto it. Several guests appear for only one or two anecdotes, with their name and biographical information saying more about them than they’re able to convey in their scant screen time. I appreciate that many of these individuals have taken steps to help people, but it’s hard to really remember the details of any one participant given the sheer number of them. I can get more information steps to take for combating climate change and poverty with a Google Search. Despite their good intentions, nothing in WeRiseUP has the time to be handled in-depth. They discuss poverty, climate change and inequality, for example, but there are so many interviewees and so little time that most of the information gets buried in snazzy infographics. I still watched WeRiseUP out of curiosity because the issues it covers are of general interest to me, but there wasn’t much to learn.
This review sounds harsh. Maybe it is. I’m certainly not the target audience. I would never, ever attend one of these seminars of my own volition and would only do so begrudgingly if mandated in a professional setting. Is it due to introversion? Hard to say. My blood doesn’t pump any faster when a charismatic “successful” person tells me everything comes down to following my dreams.
It’s certainly sleek and well-made. Perhaps the most frustrating thing, for an outsider, is that WeRiseUP advertises itself as moving beyond “a motive of consumption” to “a primary drive of contribution.” Nothing in this documentary suggests that is actually the case outside of the small community of men and women with the resources and time to become involved in these types of organizations, resources they proudly discuss gaining through the market systems they took advantage of in the first place. The first third of the film is, in fact, about how to become successful at business. Many of their businesses, charitable works aside, still rely on consumables, whether they be physical objects or social experiences. The message of the movie is supposed to be moving on toward a more community-centered world view but is fundamentally advocating the idea that material wealth is a requisite step to improving your community. In fairness, that’s probably true in many regards. But let’s not pretend the basis of this documentary isn’t advertising hip entrepreneurs and motivational speakers with a “you can be successful … like me!” message.
There is no doubt that many of these men and women have done great things for their communities. Wealth allows you to pick and choose who you help, which has the fringe benefit of gaining more wealth. The documentary ends with a call to action that, again, feels unspecified outside of the traditional entreaty to work hard, make money, put a fraction of your money elsewhere and then advertise your charity. WeRiseUP, as a film, is too focused on selling the impression of charity and the appeal of wealth and entrepreneur culture than providing concrete examples of how to create a community-minded future. Its heart is certainly in the right place. But to an outsider, it’s honestly a bit of a slog.