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In his crusade against the “Shopacolypse,” Bill Talen, aka the Reverend Billy and the Church of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, has song lyrics like: “Stop that Starbucks not another….No your latte’s not my lover.”
For obvious reasons, Starbucks isn’t Reverend Billy’s biggest fan. So when Silverdocs decided to show What Would Jesus Buy?, featuring Reverend Billy and his frugal flock as they ride a bus across America, Starbucks got a little spooked.
Starbucks sponsored Silverdocs last year, and the corporation was on board to do so again, to the tune of $5,000, says festival director Patricia Finneran. In return for its sponsorship, like the festival’s other sponsors (including the Washington City Paper), Starbucks would have its logo plastered on Silverdocs catalogues and guides.
However, according to Finneran, “Starbucks had concerns about this film because the subject of the film specifically targeted it.” She says Starbucks representatives were “uncomfortable supporting the film in any way,” especially because of Reverend Billy’s propensity for performing so-called “exorcisms” at Starbucks stores.
But, says Finneran, Silverdocs wouldn’t consider pulling the documentary. “We, of course, are not going to compromise our programming,” she says. And Starbucks didn’t ask them to, she says.
Still, the Starbucks situation posed an interesting question for the festival, which spotlights independent documentary films, she says. “Our role as an arts organization is to support artists and their creative expression, but also [to] work with the community, and we need to work with corporate sponsors who support our work.”
Ultimately, Silverdocs and Starbucks came to an agreement. Starbucks would remove its logo from all program materials but maintain its commitment of $5,000. “I have to respect Starbucks,” Finneran says, for choosing not to rescind its contribution.
Starbucks representatives did not immediately return calls for comment.
Photo by Fred Askew Photography