Marketplace Scratch Pad

Subprime meltdown, the movie

Scott Jagow Sep 1, 2009

Michael Moore might have some competition in the “documentary on the financial crisis” category. A new one called “American Casino” is touring the country. It’s specifically about the housing market’s collapse.

The film’s directors are veteran documentarians, Leslie and Andrew Cockburn. Here’s what Leslie says about the film at the American Casino website:

It is rare that a documentary director has the privilege to shoot a film that, while in production, becomes the greatest story of our time. The “worst case scenario” of January 2008, when we began work on American Casino, turned into reality in the year that followed.

We were able to follow our characters through Wall Street’s collapse, foreclosure, bankruptcy, homelessness. We watched whole neighborhoods ravaged by the subprime meltdown. I have spent much of my career filming in war zones and post apocalyptic societies — Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan. But I never expected such a disaster at home.

A review from the New Yorker:

Idiocy is a great subject for comedy but a depressing and rarely instructive one for drama and documentary, and yet, as everybody in “American Casino” keeps telling us, we all got caught up in this stuff, as homeowners or as taxpayers financing a bailout; even if we didn’t initiate it, the idiocy enveloped our lives…

What happened at Bear Stearns or at Goldman Sachs affected the mosquito levels in Riverside County, California (the insects breed with special fecundity in abandoned swimming pools). With a rare cohesive power, the Cockburns fill in the lines of connection. They function a little like Raymond Chandler as he traces the corruption that produces, at the end of a long chain of circumstances, the lady in the lake.

It sounds like the film focuses mainly on minority communities and leans heavily against the mortgage industry. It largely absolves the homeowners from responsibility for their troubles, which the New Yorker says “seems no better than a partial truth.”

“American Casino” opens in New York tomorrow and then tours other cities into the fall. See the list here.

The trailer:

American Casino movie trailer from Leslie and Andrew Cockburn on Vimeo.

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