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Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992) was, at the time of its release, the first and only documentary film that explored the political life and ideas of Noam Chomsky, a world-renowned linguist, intellectual, political activist and the most-cited living author. Created by two Canadian independent filmmakers, Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick, it expanded on the ideas of Chomsky's book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, which he co-wrote with Edward S. Herman. The film features Mark Achbar, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman. Mark Achbar would later collaborate to co-direct The Corporation along with Jennifer Abbott and Joel Bakan.
On December 7, 1928, Noam Chomsky was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he received his Ph.D. in linguistics in 1955. Chomsky would later become a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, and other learned and professional societies both in the United States and abroad. He received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, the Kyoto Prize in Basic Sciences, the Helmholtz Medal, the Dorothy Eldridge Peacemaker Award, the 1999 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science and many others. In addition, he is twice the winner of the Orwell Award and is the recipient of over 29 honorary degrees from universities worldwide.
Chomsky established himself as a prominent critic of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. He is a self-declared anarcho-syndicalist, a branch of anarchism that focuses on the labour movement, and a libertarian socialist. Since his first publication titled Syntactic Structures, Noam Chomsky has written hundreds of books and articles and lectures tirelessly worldwide.
Mark Achbar is a graduate of Syracuse University's Fine Arts Film Program. After interning in Hollywood, he moved to Toronto to work on Spread Your Wings and Danger Bay's CBC/Disney series. He received a Gemini nomination for Best Writer on The Canadian Conspiracy, which won a Gemini for Best Entertainment Special and was nominated for an International Emmy. Achbar was first drawn to Noam Chomsky in 1985 when he heard Chomsky's talk titled The Drift Toward Global War. Achbar began his correspondence with Noam Chomsky, regarding his documentary project, in 1987 and he released his first formal proposal to produce Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media in 1990.
Peter Wintonick was born in Trenton, Canada, in 1953. An independent documentary filmmaker, Wintonick would receive the Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts in 2006.
In 1986 Wintonick would propose a film on Chomsky to a senior bureaucrat at the National Film Board of Canada, which was rejected. A year later, Achbar began to develop a movie on Chomsky with friends. However, the collaborators parted ways due to philosophical differences. In 1988 Achbar and Wintonick recognized their common interests and began to develop the project together. They established a production company, Necessary Illusions, and began soliciting support. Finally, in 1989, Francis Miquet joined Necessary Illusions as a general manager, and they began developing their first formal proposal together. The filmmakers travelled to seven countries and twenty-three cities, collecting over 120 hours of the original footage. Then, combining archival footage with their original footage, the filmmakers created a documentary around 165 minutes long that would garner over 350 pages of press. The film presents and illustrates Chomsky's and Herman's propaganda model, which alleges systematic biases in the mass media and seeks to explain them in terms of structural economic causes. For example, a portion of the film is a lengthy examination of The New York Times history of Indonesia's invasion. Occupation of East Timor, which Chomsky claims exemplifies the media's unwillingness to criticize an ally.
According to the filmmakers, during the preparation and filmmaking of Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, they strove to democratize the production process and make it inclusive. This would entail extensive consultative screenings with audiences and result in over 600 individuals helping guide them to the film's final form. Another unique aspect to Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media was creating a film metanarrative. This required the filmmakers to film the filming process and create a mix of mediums to create the final film.
Until the release of The Corporation in 2003, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media was the most successful documentary in Canadian history. The film played theatrically in over 300 cities worldwide, winning over 22 awards, appeared in more than 50 international film festivals and was broadcast in over 30 markets. It has also been translated into over a dozen languages. Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media received numerous awards, including Silver Conch (1994) for best non-fiction film above 40 minutes as the Bombay International Documentary Short and Animation Film Festival, Gold Hugo (1992) for Best Social/Political Documentary at the Chicago International Film Festival, Best Canadian Feature Film-Special Jury Citation (1992) at the Toronto International Film Festival and Most Popular Canadian Film (1992) at the Vancouver International Film Festival as well as others.
Mark Achbar edited a companion book of the same name, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, a companion book which includes a complete transcript of the film, including excerpts from the writings, interviews and correspondence of Chomsky and Edward S. Herman. Also included are other exchanges between Chomsky and his critics, additional historical and biographical material, filmmakers' notes, 300 stills from the film and 18 philosopher trading cards. While Chomsky had concerns about the book, as evidenced in the correspondence between Achbar and himself, the book made the national bestseller list in Canada.