With things not going so well for them lately on other fronts, Republican politicos have taken to emphasizing a hale U.S. economy -- though that is something few Americans feel in their own pocketbooks. Some reasons for those clashing perceptions are explored in vet documentarian Danny Schechter's "In Debt We Trust," which portrays a nation hobbled and preyed upon by credit card companies and other lenders.

With things not going so well for them lately on other fronts, Republican politicos have taken to emphasizing a hale U.S. economy — though that is something few Americans feel in their own pocketbooks. Some reasons for those clashing perceptions are explored in vet documentarian Danny Schechter’s “In Debt We Trust,” which portrays a nation hobbled and preyed upon by credit card companies and other lenders. When this borrowed-money bubble bursts, he suggests, another Great Depression could arrive. Provocative if crudely made pic is playing scattered rep dates, and on DVD could prove a useful educational/political organizing tool.

Helmer-narrator casts a wide net over various aspects of a debt problem that’s massive yet almost invisible in terms of public awareness. National and individual debt combined total well over $10 trillion. Schechter notes how credit card companies prey on college students and others too young and dumb to realize how easily a spending spree can change their future. Meanwhile, the working poor are conned into loan schemes with huge punitive consequences for late payment, including ever-more-frequent home foreclosures. Middle-class families end up in deepening debt just trying to maintain the same home-and-car-owning lifestyle their parents could afford. Where there used to be a punitive but real last-ditch escape route, Republican lawmakers recently shoved through restrictions making it almost impossible for individuals to declare bankruptcy.

Deregulated to the point where interest rates of up to 700% are legal, the 10 or so corporate banks and other leading financial institutions enjoy obscene profit margins. The goal, it seems, is to lure as many people as possible into a “predatory lending” cycle of borrowing and paying that, like quicksand, they will slowly drown in while scrambling to climb out. Several commentators call it “the new serfdom.”

There’s a lot of eye-opening stuff here, as well as a strong call to action lest this house of cards (not unlike the reckless speculation of the 1920s Stock Exchange) collapse into a Great Depression-redux. Schechter interviews not only average-Joe and Janes, but also a variety of alarmed experts including “Credit Card Nation” author Robert Manning and activist Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

Pic is seriously marred by Schechter’s annoying presence, which provides a used-car-salesman/informercial-host type unctuousness. (Damn you, Michael Moore, for making this kind of humorous director-as-protagonist routine look so easy, when in fact most onscreen helmers come off awkward and gratuitous.) Snarky novelty songs and crude animation lower the level of discourse. On the other hand, this spoon-feeding might well help “In Debt” speak to less-educated auds who’d be bored by a more sober docu approach.

Tech aspects are basic, with bigscreen projection not flattering the HD lensing.

In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts

Production

An Altacliff Films presentation of a Globalvision production. Produced by Danny Schechter. Executive producer, Steven Green. Directed, written by Danny Schechter.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Gary Keith Griffin; editor, Linda Hattendorf; music, Polar Levine. Reviewed at Roxie Cinema, San Francisco, Nov. 1, 2006. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Danny Schechter, Sheila Jackson Lee, Robert Manning, Roy Barnes, Joel Sucher, Travis Plunkett, Kevin Phillips, Roy Barnes.
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