Watch out, the Yes Men are coming.
Wearing suits bought in a Salvation Army store and wielding little more than a fake press release, the American duo are out to shake up the debate on climate change, Arctic oil and corporate greed.
It's a mission they've been on since 1999, when Igor Vamos and Jacques Servin — aka Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum — began to earnestly pursue their second careers as political pranksters.
Since then they've conducted more than 40 stunts, each on a shoe-string budget and with publicity as the main aim. In a third documentary about their work, called "The Yes Men are Revolting," viewers get to see polar bears become vehicles for satire and arms dealers embrace renewable energy. But both protagonists also question whether their work is making an impact in the face of the immense global challenge of climate change.
On the eve of presenting the documentary at the Berlin Film Festival, the Yes Men talked Monday about whether they would ever take hush money to stop making fun of big companies.
"When will they make offers?" Servin asked jokingly.
While energy companies and governments are the preferred targets, Vamos and Servin usually turn the media into unwitting accomplices by holding spoof press conferences to announce seemingly astounding news — only to reveal their hoax shortly afterward. The ensuing furor serves to highlight the difference between fantasy — a chemical company taking responsibility for a major industrial accident — and reality.
Servin said he thinks of these hoaxes as a form of collaboration between the activists and the media.
"We provide strange spectacles for journalists so they have an excuse to cover important issues," he said. "Because we're doing it for a purpose it kind of feels OK."
At times, over the 15-year span of the film, the Yes Men's sense of purpose falters.
"Whenever we would do actions I would think this was the one that would change everything but afterward there would be this huge depression like oh, it didn't change anything," Servin says at one point.
And yet, like the 'SurvivaBall' costumes in which the Yes Men and their friends attempt to float across New York's East River, there's no knowing beforehand whether a stunt will sink or swim.
"Nothing happens the way you plan it, but more often than not if you have the right commitment it does happen," said Vamos. "We've had lots of times when we thought everything was off, but we kept pushing and it just happened."
Despite setbacks, 20 threats of lawsuits and the occasional heartbreak, the Yes Men keep going.
Armageddon may not be averted yet, but at least some people are having fun trying to stop it happening.