I.O.U.S.A. - new documentary exposes financial crisis

Monday, November 3, 2008


Written by Scott Gilbert

One of the last documentary releases for 2008 is called I.O.U.S.A and is an excellent primer on the current financial crisis. It is a mid-budget film comparable to those produced by Brave New Films, yet the content is right on.

The main thrust is explaining how the US got into the current financial crisis which is now bringing the global economy to its knees. Although films involving banking and financial issues are notoriously dry, the director of this film did a very good job of mixing it up with interviews with graphs, charts, and animations to keep the visuals going while hearing the words from prominent financial big-wigs.

The film trails national debts for the past few hundred years, and does a good job of explaining why the national debt was high at various times. It was usually because of war. But it then goes on to describe why we are so screwed now, by comparing the past to present, and explaining how the only way to pay for this massive debt is to have skyrocketing taxes or a major reduction of government spending, neither of which are popular with the public. The projections for the coming decades are brutal. The graphs look like the ones Al Gore used in his film An Inconvenient Truth - literally off the charts.

It is quite scary, and we should all care deeply about the implications. The scariest thing is the threat of economic warfare. When other countries like China own a significant portion of your debt there is a real risk that they will exercise their power when needed. In many ways, a foreign country holding trillions of dollars of your debt can be scarier than them having nuclear weapons. This is certainly the case here and the film does a good job of animating the situation.

My only criticism of the film is the reliance on interviews from your "average Joe". The strength of the film is in the experts who are interviewed and the topic covered. I personally find no strength in random interviews of passers-by on the street who don't know anything about the economy and are asked questions like "how does a country like ours borrow money from other countries?". I didn't know the answer either, and I guess this is what they were trying to get at, but everyone knows that the public is generally uninformed of how these things work and I didn't find that the many random public questionnaires added anything to the film.

Unfortunately, this film has been doing incredibly poorly in theatres (at least in Canada). When it was released last week in Toronto most cinemas had less than 20 attendees per screening. The filmmakers must have received the numbers for the first week of box office sales and decided to try something new. Last Friday (one week after the film hit the big screens), the filmmakers released a 30-minute condensed version of the film for internet viewing. This won't help them sell tickets, but maybe it will at least allow more people to see the film and possibly result in more DVD sales down the road. We have embedded the 30-minute version below for you to watch and comment on below. Enjoy!

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