Daniel Garber interviews director JIM BRUCE about his new film Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve

Posted in Cultural Mining, Deregulation, documentary, Uncategorized, Wall Street by CulturalMining.com on February 23, 2014

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Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

The world’s economy was brought to a standstill after the crash of 2008 – we’re still recovering. What MONEY_FOR_NOTHING_Federal_Reserve_Note_Photo_Courtesy_of_Liberty_Street_Filmshappened? A new movie posits that it was the policies of the Federal Reserve under Alan Greenspan that were largely responsible for the meltdown.

This in-depth documentary explains the history of this powerful but opaque agency and how it works. It’s called Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve, (opening today in Toronto at Hot Docs). Director JIM BRUCE (editor: King of Kong) tells us more.

Movies that make you go Hmmm… Fair Game, Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer, Inside Job, My Suicide, Golden Slumber, 127 Hours PLUS Film Festivals: Rendezvous with Madness, ReelAsian, Waterloo Animation

Movies that make you go hmmm…

If you look back at the past decade and wonder what the hell was that all about? there are three good movies that provide some explanations.

Fair Game
Dir: Doug Liman

Valerie Plame is a tough cookie. She works under deep cover for the CIA, recruiting local snitches around the world to gather intelligence on those inscrutable terrorists. She’s part of the group looking into the threat of a nuclear weapons in Iraq. She’s known as the agent who can’t be broken, even by torture. She’s married to a hothead, former diplomat, Wilson, a West Africa expert, who the CIA enlists to investigate rumours about yellowcake uranium coming out of Niger.

But their conclusions (they all hate Saddam Hussein too, but there are no weapons of mass destruction) do not sit well with the conspirers Cheney, Karl Rove, and their attack dog Scooter Libby. The movie traces what happens to Valerie and her family (and the drama sticks pretty close to the true story) when they expose her cover, and start to assassinate her husband’s character.

This movie’s a good historical take on the US government’s WMD scam (which led to the invasion of Iraq, more than a hundred thousand civilians dead and 4 million refugees). It tells a story where even the CIA comes across as one of the good guys. And Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are fun to watch, and the thriller aspect – of a spy escaping her foes – is not bad either.

So… a couple years after all this happened, things were brewing in New York City, on Wall Street, to be exact. The next movie, a documentary:

Client 9: the Rise and Fall of Elliot Spitzer
Dir: Alex Gibney

… looks at the case of the former Attorney General, and later Governor of New York, who was brought down in an embarrassing scandal involving a prostitute he slept with.

So what actually happened there?
Spitzer was, with great media and popular success – attacking the crooked dealers in the financial industry. He started low, but gradually worked his way into the belly of the beast. But, of course, he was getting on the nerves of some of the bigshots of Wall Street:
Crooked stock analysts at Merril Lynch; insider traders; NY Stock Exchange director Kenneth Langone; and the head of AIG, Hank Greenberg. (This documentary gets to interview everyone!)

As state governor, he added to his list of enemies – he sought out the fights and confrontations. But, of course, the bad guys fought back and cooked up an elaborate scheme using the sleazy, but fascinating, dirty trickster Roger Stone, to bring him down. Compiling published newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with the players, including the prostitutes and politicians involved, this compelling example of real investigative journalism traces the elaborate set-up to bring down the enemy of Wall Street, Albany, and Washington.

Next…

Inside Job
Dir: Charles Ferguson
Narrator: Matt Damon

…takes up the story right where Client 9 ends. It traces the bigger picture of how the real estate and financial bubble led to the collapse of the world’s, and the later bailout and payoffs to the very men whose out-and-out conniving and fraud led to these problems. Politicos, Investment banks, and, interestingly, university professors are taken to task for their involvement. This is also a great documentary, but not as good as Client 9 in getting interviews with the players from both sides of the story.

Does all this stuff make you mad? Well, check out Rendezvous with Madness – a film festival that deals with addiction and mental health by showing some interesting movies, documentaries, and experimental films, combined with discussions right after the screenings.

One movie that caught my eye is called:

My Suicide
Dir: David Lee Miller

This is a fictional blog in movie form. A blog-movie. I’d call it a Bloovie.

Archie is pretty pissed off. He goes to high school, but doesn’t much like it. He has a crush on a beautiful girl named Sierra, and feels alienated from his parents. It’s a 90210-type high school, but he’s not one of the popular kids. So when his classmates are all told to make a movie (everyone in this film seems to have a video camera), he tells the class: He’s going to film his own suicide. He immediately gets driven away by a cop, and passed on to a parade of counselors, social workers and shrinks. But he also unwittingly becomes an underground antihero in the school, with lots of kids vowing to follow his example; and he finally meets up with seemingly perfect Sierra, the girl of his dreams.

This is a frenetic movie: It feels like an earnest episode of Degrassi, cranked up on a six pack of red bull. It’s also much dirtier, with sex, drugs, and some sad stuff too. It quotes TV news, commercials, educational films, and some excellent animated sequences – basically anything you can fit on a green screen behind the main character. A sad and shocking topic, but with an interesting and comic way of telling the story of teenage angst. It’s on tonight at 9; check out the details on http://www.rendezvouswithmadness.com

The Toronto ReelAsian International Film Festival  shows great films from east and southeast Asia, including Japan, China, Korea, HK, and Vietnam, as well as movies from around the world.

The festival opened with the enjoyable retro kung fu flic “Gallants”. One interesting movie (that screens tonight) is:

Golden Slumber
Dir: Yoshihiro Nakamura

Aoyagi (Masato Sakai) is a friendly, ordinary, mild-mannered deliveryman. He was in the Food Culture Research Youth Group (dedicated to “friendship through fast food”) at university, lives in Sendai, and once was famous for 15 minutes when he rescued a pop star by tripping her attacker. He is bamboozled into going on a fishing trip with an old classmate which soon turns into a massive JFK/ Lee Harvey Oswald assassination plot to kill the Japanese PM. And he discovers that he’s the Oswald, and a whole lot of shady characters driving black cars are after him, as well as the even more bloodthirsty and venal press corps.

A pint-sized, teenaged serial killer becomes one of Aoyagi’s many de facto rescuers as he tries to clear his name. “Trust”, Aoyagi believes, “is mankind’s greatest strength.’

This is a neat movie: 50% paranoid conspiracy drama, 50% quirky black comedy, that follows Aoyagi and his various former college friends as the story unfolds in an unusual way. I love this kind of movie.

Another story of a man stuck in a hard place is the very enjoyable

127 Hours
Dir: Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle, of course, is the guy who brought us Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting; all his movies are fun to watch, but totally different from the last one he directed.

This one is an hour and a half of an adventurous, solo mountain climber (James Franco) who’s arm is pinned in a fissure by a big hunk o’ rock… in the middle of nowhere.

And the only way out might be by cutting off his own arm. This is a true story, so if you’ve seen pictures of the guy (Aron Ralston) you’ll know what he did in the end. So how does he keep your attention? A guy stuck in a rock for an hour and a half? Well this is a great movie, that isn’t trapped in the tiny space. I don’t like overly claustrophobic, squashed-in movies. This one reaches out, it goes wherever Aron’s mind, dreams, fantasies, hallucinations, and memories take him. There is an extended episode of extreme grotesquerie, but other than that, it’s a greatly enjoyable movie about a man attempting to overcome nature using his will and logic, without resorting to prayer and salvation.

And if you’re in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, be sure to check out the 10th annual Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema – it’s filled with animated features from places like Eastern Europe and Japan, ranging from anime, to fairy tales to psychedelia – sounds pretty cool. Look for the details on wfac.ca

Jaw Droppers. Documentaries: Secrets of the Tribe, Gasland, 12th and Delaware

There’s a particular type of documentary I saw at this year’s Hotdocs (The Canadian International Documentary Festival), that I call a jaw-dropper.

Some movies, well most movies, including most documentaries, are entertaining but forgettable. But a few are really good — informative, telling about a new phenomenon or hot topic. Something you may have heard about, it’s knocking around somewhere in a corner of your brain, but you’ve actually never seen it on TV or in a movie – not with that degree of closeness. The kind of movie that takes a bite out of you, chews you up, and then spits you out again at the end. They leave you with your head shaking or your stomach churning or your brain exploding.

One really shocking movie — “Secrets of the Tribe” (directed by Jose Padilha) left a bitter taste in my mouth about an entire field: anthropology.

The Yanomami are a large group of indigenous people in the Amazon in the area between Brazil and Venezuela. Because they had been virtually without any contact with the outside world (ie European culture) until fairly recently, the anthropologists considered it an ideal case where they could study traditional practices, beliefs, sexuality, war, violence, language… the whole thing. And by getting there before they’ve been changed by so-called civilization, they can record and preserve a culture that might soon disappear. One of the leading anthropologists there, and one who made his reputation on it, is the controversial Napoleon Chagnon, the US-based French academic. Many other anthropologists in the 60’s and 70’s flooded into the region, to see this virgin, untouched civilization. The thing is, anthropologists are people too. And they touched the Yanomami.

This case, and all its ramifications, led to a real split within the anthropological establishment (which was exposed a while back, in an expose by Patrick Tierney). The movie brings the academic warfare to the screen, in all its disgustingness.

The accusations range from ideology, to crimes, to awful unethical practices, to eeeeeeeeeuuuggghh noooo!

Chagnon introduces weapons and technology that villages can use against each other, and gleefully records the casualties of this “warlike” people. It’s all about who kills the most, who gets the most wives, who has the most babies. He advances his theory that biology is what determines culture, a sort of a neo-darwinist take on civilization.

As if controversial theories weren’t enough, the movie turns into a combination documentary and late night episode of TMZ, with sordid talk of one anthropologists taking a teenaged Yanomami girl as a bride and another who slept with teenaged boys. Then it gets even more mind blowing.

It turns out Chagnon was paid by the US government Atomic Energy Commission to collect data on the Yanomami to be used as a control population. Through this data, the US government could compare mutation levels with the people affected by American bomb tests in the Marshall islands (in the South Pacific), or the population that survived the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

And then… there were the measles epidemics spreading through the amazon killing people. In this case, they decide to do something that could save the Yanomami if they get them the vaccine before the infection reached there. But the guides they take with them may be from infected villages. In addition, they were taking secret blood samples from the Yanomami – for research purposes — that had nothing to do with the vaccinations.

Anyway, each scene is more horrific and sick-making than the one before, including the vicious academic infighting and backstabbing going on… yikes!

Secrets of the Tribe is a devastating expose of the entire profession.

Another revealing movie is “Gasland” (directed by Josh Fox). It’s a gut puncher. The idea that all of this environmental destruction is going on all around us… is unbelievable.

I always thought natural gas was the clean one, the good energy. the one that won’t leave huge pits of tar sludge behind it, won’t lead to oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico creeping slowly toward the Louisiana coastline wiping out all those birds, all those shrimp. It won’t lead to collapses in the coal mines, it won’t kill everything in site, it’s clean, pure, ozone-friendly. C’mon its “natural gas”, it’s natural gas. It’s like… organic!

Um… it’s not.

Josh Fox lives in a beautiful home in rural Pennsylvania, the home he grew up in, with bubbling brooks and twirting birds, and lush green trees all around. Like most of his neighbours, he gets a letter from energy giant asking him to allow them to poke around for some natural gas below the surface of his land. And for that he’d get a nice juicy cheque! Sounds pretty sweet. But he notices something… unusual going all around his county.

The gas company is using a technique called hydraulic fracturing – also known as “fracking”. (What the frack is that?) It means they’re drilling down into the ground, then far below, they’re sending horizontal pipes to set off explosions using unknown chemicals, underground, to free the pools of gas.

This is going on all over the place, in maybe 31 states. The problem is that if you set off explosions all over the place, underground, it does release the gas, and that gas interferes with the water supply.

What does that mean in real terms? Josh gets in his car with a handheld camera and starts driving around the country talking to people with those cute little gas pods on their land or nearby. And he keeps finding noxious fumes, disgusting sewage, and a horrible mixing of the gas – and the chemicals used in the fracking — with their water supply. The gas companies say, no! no!, it’s fine, don’t worry, be happy, but the people all show Josh Fox what this means: they turn on their sink, and hold up a lighter to the water – their tap water… is on fire!

Turns out this is all Dick Cheney’s fault. No, seriously.

Anyway, this is a fun, well made, Michael Moore-style documentary about how the big energy companies are screwing the little guy, and how deregulation has eliminated the safeguards that ensure clean air and clean water.

I would have preferred they weren’t jiggling the camera quite so much – I got a bit carsick watching this movie – but, aside from that, this is a great documentary.

“12th and Delaware” is a unique movie about a topic that’s been talked to death. Abortion. The filmmakers, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, (who directed the movie “Jesus Camp”), found an abortion clinic in Florida, that’s at one corner of a street, with an anti-abortion center, a Crisis Pregancy Clinic parked right across the street. The two sides are not friends, to say the least. You get your old ladies screaming at anyone going into the abortion clinic and waving little plastic babies at them. (They have pink ones and brown ones, depending on whom they’re showing them to). They go right up to the closed blind windows and taunt them through glass. The anti-abortion side leaves photos and signs on the grass in front of the abortion clinic to scare people away.

So… big deal, right? I’ve seen all this before. And, actually I didn’t want to see any more about it. But…

These filmmakers take it inside the clinics, both of them, at the same time. So the camera teams have been allowed free access to talk with the people inside the centres on both sides of the street, show them talking to the women, and talk frankly to the camera about what’s going on.

Basically, a lot of the people going into the right-to-life place called a pregnancy crisis clinic think they’re going into an abortion clinic. They’re both at the corner of 12th and Delaware. These pregnancy crisis centres are positioned all across the US, many of them placed in exactly the same way – right across the street from the abortion clinics. The woman in the white coat is not an abortion doctor, she’s an anti-abortion counselor. But she doesn’t tell them that. (A lot of them figure it out eventually.)

It’s almost like a race. There’s a priest – a Stephen Colbert doppelganger – who explains it’s a battle, a battle between darkness and light. Then there are the doctors on the other side of the street who are mainly just pissed off at the crazies: “Why don’t they just leave us alone – we don’t bother them…” They peek through their venetian blinds and look at the security cameras to see if the protesters are getting close enough to the clinic that they can call the cops on them. The doctors literally have to disguise themselves as they drive into the clinic. There’s even a really scary stalker dude following the doctors on the street to track down where they pick up patients.

Amazingly, they get all of this on camera, sharply shot. It’s a real eye-opener. And shot with both sides of the chasm allowed to openly express their views to the camera. Not a topic I’m fond of hearing about, but “12th and Delaware” shows it all in an entirel new way.

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