For our 28th screening, Winta Yohannes chose to show Compliance by Craig Zobel, exploring the relationship between obedience, authority and responsibility.

Based on true events, writer/director Craig Zobel’s troubling psychological indie thriller examines the complexity of obedience and authority through the experiences of Sandra, a stressed-out fast-food restaurant manager and Becky, a teenage employee, who falls victim to a chain of dreadful abuse by proxy.

When a police officer tells you to do something, you do it. Right?

Already under pressure from her superior, Sandra is doing her best to get through another tough Friday shift when a man claiming to be police officer Daniels, calls. According to the man on the phone, Becky has stolen money from a customer. When Becky denies any wrongdoing, the man on the phone insists that Sandra detain the girl in the backroom of the restaurant and search her, setting in motion a shocking sequence of events to follow. 

As we watch, we ask ourselves two questions: “Why don’t they just say no?” and the more troubling, “What would I do?”

Delving into the psychology of this real-life story, Zobel’s urgent moral inquiry proves that sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. Compliance recounts the real prank call scam that took place at a Mount Washington, Kentucky McDonald's restaurant, in 2004. Another 70 similar cases took place in the US between 1992 and 2004. The uncomfortable truth, and maybe the reason why Compliance evokes so much anger: it shows us that no special circumstances are needed. Sometimes, a simple phone call is enough. 

This makes the events unfolding onscreen all the more difficult to watch–but impossible to turn away from. The authority hoax is a demonstration of the weakness and suggestibility of human nature, even more devastating than in the well-known Stanford Prison and Milgram experiments because, in this case real lives were destroyed.

Why isn’t it easy to “just say no...”

Winta Yohannes is a filmmaker, author and photographer whose films have been screened globally at renowned festivals including the Berlinale, Edinburgh and the BFM International Film Festival in London. In 2009 she earned an Honorable Mention at the “Prix de la Photographie Paris” for her series “Nation of Islam”. Besides working on her own photography projects, Yohannes also works as a freelance photographer and is currently developing a feature length film. Born in Eritrea and raised in Germany, from the age of three, she is a graduate of the London Film Schooland after living in New York, London and Paris she is now based in Berlin.