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The Forum

Behind the scenes of the World Economic Forum

For the first time in the 50-year history of the World Economic Forum, an independent camera crew was able to shoot behind the scenes of the huge event. In times of unfettered populism and growing mistrust towards the elite, we follow Klaus Schwab, the 81-year-old founder of the controversial World Economic Forum, over the course of one year. We accompany him as he works to carry out his mission: to improve the state of the world. Can Klaus Schwab´s vision for the Forum really contribute to solving global problems? Or does it actually worsen the issue by promoting the self-interest of a global elite?

Original languages : English, English Voice OverSubtitles : German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Dutch, Filipino, Gujarati, Japanese, Nepali ,Swahili , Tamil, TurkishLength : 100 minutesRelease : 2019


The Film

A political thriller by Marcus Vetter

„Not to just talk, but to let others talk too, is an absolute necessity for the social cohesion of our world.”
Klaus Schwab (Founder World Economic Forum)

In times of unfettered populism and growing mistrust towards the elite, we follow Klaus Schwab, the 81-year-old founder of the controversial World Economic Forum, over the course of one year. We accompany him as he works to carry out his mission: to improve the state of the world.

Since 1971, Schwab has been bringing together the leading figures from international business, politics, science and civil society in the small Swiss mountain village of Davos – firmly convinced that the world´s problems must be solved through dialogue.

The film follows Klaus Schwab over a one-year period when the world seems to be falling apart: climate crisis, Brexit, Yellow-Vest protests on the streets of France, the burning Amazon rainforest and the trade war between the USA and China. But not only are a new swathe of populist leaders like Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, challenging the establishment… a younger rebellious generation, led by climate activist Greta Thunberg, are making their presence felt.

We are there when Trump, Bolsonaro and other heads of state engage in bilateral talks with business leaders, when diplomatic conflicts unfold in the corridors of the Congress Center in Davos, or when CEOs of the world´s largest corporations learn about topics such as Artificial Intelligence or Blockchain. Meanwhile, we accompany senior employees of Klaus Schwab while they carry out the WEF’s projects on the ground. For example, in Indonesia, where they are attempting to prevent the deforestation of the rainforest through sustainable palm oil projects, or in Rwanda, where drones are being used to supply hospitals with blood reserves. Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International and declared critic of the World Economic Forum, uses the exclusive meetings in Davos to raise awareness of the urgent need for climate protection amongst politicians and business leaders. She also brings climate activist Greta Thunberg to the annual meeting and provides her with a platform to confront the most powerful people in the world.

Can Klaus Schwab´s vision for the Forum really contribute to solving global problems? Or does it actually worsen the issue by promoting the self-interest of a global elite?

“Our movement is strong because it shows the powerful that they abandon their children. It’s time for everyone, including yourself, to finally react. “
Letter from Greta Thunberg to Klaus Schwab, founder of the WEF



How did this film come about? How exactly did you get such unprecedented access?

This came through Christian Beetz, the producer. He had a conversation with Klaus Schwab five years ago, in which he asked Schwab about a possible film about him and the WEF. Back then Klaus responded that if it were not a film only about him, but also about the World Economic Forum, he would possibly agree.
But another few years passed by, as the topic is so complex. It was not easy to find the right approach. In 2017 Christian approached me, asked if I could envision such a film. I had previously directed a film about the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and then a film about the financial crisis, The Forecaster, dealing as well with a very complex topic. I then went to meet Klaus Schwab, who is probably the most influential and most connected man in the world. He’s someone no one really knows.
I met a very interesting person, full of passion. For his age he looked young and agile. I was interested in whether he had a vision when he started it all 50 years ago. Back then his idea was that if you could talk with the most powerful managers on earth about ethics, could you steer the world in a better direction?
I could clearly see that he was passionate about this idea. He worked all his life on it. I asked myself, where did his idea eventually fail? Or did it fail at all? Did we the people have the wrong perception about this controversially-seen event? Why do we still not feel that the world has changed for the better? Would he admit it? In a time in which the elite are questioned by the electorate, by ordinary people, where trust is lost in the system, I thought this is the right topic at the right moment. It is a sign of a time, with a person who has dedicated all his life to it. I thought, yes, it is worth a film.

The doc is indeed an intimate look at this elite organization, though I’m guessing there must have been some ground rules set by the participants. What did you push for, and what was strictly off-limits to your camera?

I told Professor Schwab in my first conversation that I was a filmmaker working for cinema, and we have a contract with our audience that we need to look behind the doors. That we need to be there when he meets heads of states, politicians, prime ministers. And that we need to feel and understand what is at stake when he talks to them — what ultimately happens in these bilateral talks.
I don’t think he understood what I meant when I explained it. So I then asked him to watch three films I’d made, The Heart of Jenin, My Father, The Turk, and my recent film Killing for Love. I wanted him to get an idea of what we are talking about when we speak about documentaries for cinema. He and his wife Hilde watched all three films almost right away, and we met again afterwards. This was actually one of the main reasons why I agreed to make this film. He is such a busy person, but he took it seriously, and he took the time to understand where I am coming from. I appreciated that, and I could clearly see that he was not a superficial person. So I decided to give it a try.

Your film The Forecaster likewise dealt with a powerful player in the global economy. What continues to draw you to this subject?

I am totally aware that we are at a pivotal point in history. The elite is not totally in control anymore and people are losing trust in the system. The genie is out of the bottle, and you cannot put him back in again. Inequality has reached a point of no return. The elite, the establishment, is voted out, and people like Bolsonaro and Trump appear on the horizon.
It is so important to cover this hot topic in a film, even though it is not a film that takes an easy journey. Eventually we have to overcome some of our preconceptions. The elite may not appear as evil as we think they are. There are good and bad people. The film is asking the question, “Is there not maybe still a middle way, one in which everyone comes together instead of separating from one another?” Professor Schwab is reaching out a hand to Greta [Thunberg], who symbolizes part of the youth. He says that we are bequeathing to the youth a huge burden, the debts we’ve accumulated over the course of the last years. It is these very youth who have to pay it back, and to handle the issue in the future.
In my view it is the very debt that states and central banks have accumulated over the course of years that is the root of inequality and distrust. It’s the politicians who never want to be blamed for a recession when they are in power, and therefore manipulate every crisis away, delaying the reckoning for too many years. Now that the chickens have come home to roost, Klaus is trying to build a bridge to the young people, to maybe join forces instead of blaming one other.

I was a bit surprised that you personally challenged Schwab on his relationship with Monsanto so vigorously during an interview. As a documentarian where and how do you draw the line between strict cinema vérité and actually engaging with your characters?

Oh, this is a very good question. I needed to do that to somehow address the concerns of the audience — so they could see I have the same concerns and maybe preconceptions that they have, but that I might draw different conclusions. I have to make sure that the film is never perceived as a propaganda piece.
In this interview we all made ourselves vulnerable. I am stuttering, the camera is trembling, and Professor Schwab is searching for words. It makes him look like a real person, and not as a coldhearted robot. It is a scene which has multiple functions. It helps the audience to deal with their own preconceptions, showing that they are not alone in their concerns. But it also presents Klaus Schwab in a vulnerable moment. From that moment on the film digs for a long while into the many projects of the WEF, and it shows that Dominic and Murat and a lot of the other people at the WEF are also trying hard to make the world a better place. They are actually a part of the elite that the electorate is about to vote out. And yet the film poses the question, “Do we really want that? Shouldn’t we try to take a second look?” The film, hopefully, offers this second look.



It is now five years since I received my first approval for a personal interview with Prof. Klaus Schwab. It was to take place in his office overlooking Lake Geneva. In the preliminary talk with his communications boss I tried to explain that we make documentaries – not news, not reports, not contributions – but films. To illustrate this, I put a pile of DVDs of award-winning documentaries, which could be seen all over the world, on the table and tried to explain that we were more interested in deep drilling with our films and that we let the people in them speak to the end without classifying them right away with commentary. The viewer and the protagonist have an equal relationship. The viewer should be able to form his own opinion, that was my premise.

I had in mind a documentary film for an international audience, as large as possible that was to have its premiere at a major film festival. I would like to show Davos in a way that no one has ever seen before. After my long and detailed application speech, which I personally found pretty convincing, I was told coldly and clearly that the press and communications department was against an independent film. And besides, this film had just been made: “Grand Hotel Budapest“ by Wes Anderson – a joke that left me completely irritated and which I only understood years later (the original location in the film is the Hotel Schatzalp above Davos).

Carrying this uncertainty with me, I then went to the appointment, supplied with the warning that Mr. Schwab would make the final decision himself within the meeting and that this conversation will most likely be finished after five minutes, since Mr. Schwab was an “extremely busy man“. However, the conversation went very differently in his office, which was paneled with cherry wood, and I was surprised by how well Mr. Schwab was prepared. He knew about my previous films and came very openly into the conversation, asking me why I wanted to make a film about the World Economic Forum. I explained that I was interested in how an institution that is so widely criticized continues to be so successful and have such an influence over world affairs. I, too, could consider such a meeting of the elites in Davos to be very undemocratic, as everything happens behind closed doors and out of sight. Therefore, the public and I myself would be interested to know what is really happening behind closed doors and told him that he could rely on me as a serious journalist. If he gave me an independent look behind the scenes, I would deal with it fairly and openly. At that time, I approached the topic very naively and confused the Davos Annual Meeting with the institution of the World Economic Forum. In retrospect, I think he noticed that. After a conversation of over an hour, he answered my initial question: If it were really a film about the World Economic Forum and not a portrait of him, he would agree. At that time, I didn‘t understand what he meant…

He then invited me to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos and I was provided with an enormous amount of official World Economic Forum brochures, reports and books. This was the beginning of a very long journey that had its ups and its downs. When I was in Davos for the first time, the big demonstrations outside the congress area were officially stopped. I met with the American political activists THE YES MEN, who dressed the whole resistance in mourning clothes and acted as funeral directors, burying it in an action with a coffin and a eulogy. It was the time when NGOs were increasingly being officially invited to participate in the Davos meeting; the time when NGOs like Oxfam, who had carried out the resistance outside the WEF for years, were now allowed to officially use the WEF as a platform for their agenda-setting. There was a highly emotional discussion amongst the NGOs about whether this was not in fact the wrong approach, whether it was not “Greenwashing“, but when success was seen, the mood changed more and more. Oxfam had managed, with the help of the WEF, to turn the official report on the unequal distribution of wealth in the world into global news and thus politicize the topic.

This irritation about the benefits and the frustrations, the pros and cons, of using such an institution as the World Economic Forum for the NGOs‘ own purposes became the starting point for the film. Why did the organization of the World Economic Forum focus on such a critical report, when it is exactly these criticized super-rich and the whole elite that meet there? Is all this perhaps just a clever propaganda strategy to silence the loud, critical voices outside the Forum? Pursuing this question would take five years. Again and again there were big relapses, closed doors everywhere I turned. That inspired further research. Every year I went to Davos and other WEF events with a camera team, but we kept butting up against closed doors, CEOs only gave us three-minute interviews and it was almost impossible to talk to Klaus Schwab about the business of his company.

All interview requests to CEOs were forwarded to the communications departments and cancelled from there. I was also confronted with many cancellations at the financial level of such a complex project. I was particularly surprised by the emotionality with which the public law senator refused to cooperate. Many journalists and editors have a very strong opinion of the World Economic Forum – a pure business meeting of the elites, a neo-liberal organization that makes itself the reception hall of the powerful. Klaus Schwab only plays the role of a hotel concierge, and it is also impossible to make a film about this institution. I was even personally attacked with the notion that the idea of a neutral, independent view of the organization was already right-wing propaganda. I was surprised at the emotional reaction to the topic and simply to the suggestion of making a film about the World Economic Forum. I have been developing and producing critical documentary films for almost 20 years, such as the Yes Men, on Royal Dutch Shell, on international tax evasion and the Swiss-Leaks (FALCIANI’S TAX BOMB) or, most recently, the award-winning film THE CLEANERS, which takes a very critical look at social networks such as Facebook and Google. And yet I was accused of being biased and warned that it would take years before a broadcaster would join. Additionally, the search for a director turned out to be extremely difficult. All the directors I asked to travel with me to the heart of the World Economic Forum had already reached their destination before they set off. They were very renowned colleagues, but they all had a very strong, very critical opinion about the organization without knowing the slightest thing about it. In general, the World Economic Forum is only associated with the Davos Annual Meeting, where Bono from U2 and a few Hollywood people could watch from the sidelines and the financial and political elite meet in the background to do business. No one knows its headquarters are in Geneva and that it has over 750 employees, that there are other WEF hubs around the world, such as the “Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution“ in San Francisco, run by Murat Sönmez. Or that the World Economic Forum organizes concrete projects in the background – between representatives of states, NGOs and business, such as Dominic Waughray‘s ocean project, which brings states, NGOs and satellite operators together to bring transparency to illegal fishing or capping of waste oil with the satellite images acquired free of charge.

In this way, solutions are sought together. And at the heart of all this is the 81-year-old founder and boss Klaus Schwab with his philosophy that the world can only be changed with the economy and not by turning against it. With the addition of Marcus Vetter as director, the project really took off. He too needed to be convinced and, at least initially, he needed to approach the issue with real openness. But when he decided to join me on the journey to the heart of the WEF, the wheels started to turn. He met Klaus Schwab on equal terms and asked him to watch his films before the real conversations began. Suddenly doors that had been closed, opened up, which gave us wings. It was always important to me not to lose the sense of perspective in relation to this journey.
Jennifer Morgen, head of Greenpeace International and an open critic of Davos, has a central role to play in this film, which was and continues to be enormously important because she expresses concern and criticism of the WEF.

Producing THE FORUM has always been a balancing act, marked by many defeats, propelled by willpower and the conviction that it pays to take a closer look – even through the eyes of those considered opponents. Because the truth is complex and only a close look can do it justice.

Bonus Videos

Exclusive Outtakes

“Vetter strikes an admirable balance between more serious diplomatic moments and quirkier interactions”


”An intricate web of facts, snippets of conversation, ideas and well-driven points reminding us that nothing is black-and-white and that, despite the Nestles and Bolsonaros of this world – or rather because of them – the World Economic Forum is a crucial platform through which it is maybe, just maybe, still possible to improve the state of the world”


“The Forum is great cinema that at the same time permits reflection upon political realities and entanglements.”

Artistic Director Dok Leipzig

Press videos

Interviews & discussions


& Reviews

“Together with the sequence to Bolsonaro, the scenes from Treffen Arafat/Peres are the second reason that would be enough to make the film “The Forum” a documentary worth seeing.”
FAZ, 28. Oktober 2019

“The film is not know-it-all, in the balance of opinions and the often enigmatic images that are intelligently mounted. …because it doesn’t chew in advance, but requires looking.”
Leipziger Volkszeitung, 28. Oktober 2019

“Schwab’s idea fifty years ago was to gather the powerful business leaders together and talk about ethics, ideally to make the world a better place. Nobody should be excluded from this. And that’s why, for example, in one scene of the film, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former US Vice President and current climate activist Al Gore meet and talk about the rainforest.
Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 28. Oktober.2019

“Director and Grimme award winner Marcus Vetter has, after long preparatory work, gained a glimpse – behind the scenes of the WEF. And has produced the documentary film “The Forum”, which will have its world premiere at the DOK Leipzig 2019 festiv