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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Financial crisis

'Inside Job' director Charles Ferguson: The 'tea party' is not the answer

October 26, 2010 |  3:15 pm

Charles Ferguson's anatomy-of-a-financial-crisis film "Inside Job" -- in which he documents in a sober, level-headed tone the 2008 economic crash and buttonholes academics, government officials and Wall Street executives he believes were responsible -- provokes plenty of rage about how we got into such a fiscal mess. (It also has angered some of the people it depicts, such as former Federal Reserve Board governor Frederic Mishkin, who is called to task for a report he authored; in an op-ed in the Financial Times earlier this month, he offered this rebuttal.)

We caught up with Ferguson, who previously directed the anatomy-of-a-military-crisis movie "No End in Sight," to hear his latest views on the economy, the reaction to the film and whether he thinks the "tea party" has the answers.

One of the most scathing aspects of the film is how you implicate Barack Obama and his administration for perpetuating the crisis with its lax oversight of Wall Street. Do you foresee a new direction for the administration now, especially with the resignation of Larry Summers?

I don't see much change at all. And the small amount of change we do see is driven by political fear as opposed to a real change in sentiment or policy. The underlying rules of the game have not changed very much.

Why do you think most people have been slow to recognize, then, that this has not just been a George W. Bush problem?

I think that many people in America believe by supporting and voting for Barack Obama they would be fixing this problem, and part of the emotional difficulty for Americans is to come to terms with the fact that it's not the case. It's a bipartisan problem. You can't just address it by voting for a different kind of party or candidate. It's going to be longer and harder take a bottom-up change, like the civil rights movement or the environment.

In the eyes of many Americans, the tea party has taken up that mantle. What do you make of their place in prompting reform?

I think in a situation where people are under a great deal of economic stress, it's natural to get movements like this. But traditionally in American history they don't last a very long time. The more significant question is whether there's going to be a serious movement for reform, which I don't take the tea party to be.

Why is that?

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Cannes 2010: Who's really responsible for the financial crisis?

May 17, 2010 | 11:15 am

Besides loud tour groups and dubious financiers pushing their way down the Croisette, few things get Cannes-goers' blood boiling more than a cutting documentary. But that's exactly what Charles Ferguson delivers with "Inside Job" -- a persuasively argued, thoroughly detailed, full-throated prosecution of the culprits of the financial crisis that premiered Sunday night as the first screening of what may well be the most important movie to come out of Cannes this year.

There will surely be much more to come in the next few months on the film -- check out Kenneth Turan's excellent piece in Monday's edition of The Times as the start of the wave of coverage -- but as financial regulation continues to percolate in the news, it couldn't be more timely right now.

Ferguson, who added his comprehensive reporting and even-keeled voice to an explosive current-events debate with the excellent Iraq exploration "No End In Sight," is even more on his game here. He traces the rise and fall of the financial bubble of the aughts, telling a damning story that should make you a thousand times angrier than anything Michael Moore has ever done.

Some of what's in the movie will be familiar to audiences who regularly watch the evening news -- though even here it's a sharp reminder of the jaw-dropping audacity (the Goldman Sachs fraud case as well as attendant C-SPAN footage of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) are on full display despite happening just a few weeks ago).

But Ferguson's film also finds many new avenues of exploration -- the cozy relationship between academia and Wall Street, and the entrenched, possibly corrupted, mindset of the economic leadership within the Obama administration (Larry Summers is the real bad guy, but Ferguson spreads the blame around; one of the film's more pointed characteristics is that it faults Democrats and Republicans equally).

There are also a few great moments of unexpectedness, including an appearance by Eliot Spitzer, who Ferguson effectively depicts as a man, who for all his flaws, was one of the few from the mainstream to challenge Wall Street  (though he also shows plenty of pre-collapse voices of warning that the establishment and the government chose to ignore). That Ferguson does it with a straightforward, occasionally even dry touch makes it all the more powerful. It's impossible to leave the theater in any state other than indignant disbelief.

At a dinner with media afterward, Ferguson was equally impressive, talking about some of the incisive footage he didn't have room for -- including an interview with the prime minister of Iceland on whose watch that country's collapse took place -- his optimism about reform (he has some, but not an overabundance), and how he expects his relationship with many of the world's top financial and economic personalities, with whom he has professional relationships, to change after the release of this movie.

"Inside Job" is in a sense a companion piece to Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps;" where Stone's movie dramatized specific characters against the backdrop of the financial collapse, Ferguson's film provides the context of the collapse itself. Sony Classics, which is releasing "Inside Job," is aiming for a late September or early October release, marketed in conjunction with, or at least alongside, Fox's "Wall Street" It couldn't come along at a better time.

-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from Cannes, France



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