The ongoing drama between billionaire activist Bill Ackman and nutrition-products distributor Herbalife (HLF) is set to hit the big screen this month.
Ackman, the CEO of hedge fund Pershing Square, placed a $1 billion short position against Herbalife in December 2012. And despite three years of crusading against Herbalife's central distribution model -- which he has equated to a "pyramid scheme" -- Herbalife shares have risen by about 125%.
And subsequent federal investigations into Herbalife's practices, as well as into whether Ackman's claims unfairly pressured Herbalife's stock price, both seem to have come up empty-handed, as Real Money reported.
Now on April 14 -- more than two months after Pershing Square launched on its website its own video against Herbalife, called "American Dream Denied" -- the Tribeca Film Festival will be screening Ted Braun's Betting on Zero, a documentary meant to highlight the continuing feud.
"Controversial hedge fund titan Bill Ackman is on a crusade to expose global nutritional giant Herbalife as the largest pyramid scheme in history," Tribeca's Cara Cusumano said of the documentary on its website. "He argues the company targets working class Latino communities with a 'business opportunity' that is nothing more than a scheme. Meanwhile, Herbalife execs defend their product as a genuine opportunity, and accuse Ackman of being an unadorned market manipulator out to bankrupt them in order to make a killing off his billion dollar short position against the company. Amidst the heated rhetoric on both sides, who has the moral standing?"
Braun has built a reputation exposing scandals in order to draw media attention, and to solicit public cooperation, with the release of his 2007 documentary Darfur Now, illuminating the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.
"Ted Braun's (Darfur Now) documentary presents a high-stakes chess game between the corporation and the individual that moves between the ethically fluid world of high finance to the personal grounds where the battle plays out with startling immediacy," Cusumano said. "Probing themes of fraud and greed, Betting on Zero is an engrossing deep dive into the moral complexities raised when astronomical sums of money--and no less than the American Dream itself--are on the line."
Pershing Square's own video, as well as many of Ackman's allegations, characterized Herbalife as systematically pressuring its employees to quit their regular jobs, and Pershing Square maintains that 89% of Herbalife distributors fail to make any profit with the company.
Meanwhile, Herbalife has always been keen to return Ackman's fire, calling him "a Wall Street gambler who placed a reckless $1 billion short bet," shortly after Pershing Square unveiled its $1 billion position in 2012.