Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

FOCUS

Israel's minorities and military service

Read more

DEBATE

Libya unrest: National Assembly asks for UN help to dissolve militias

Read more

DEBATE

Pakistan's Political Turmoil: Can Imran Khan's PTI Party Depose the Government? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Pakistan's Political Turmoil: Can Imran Khan's PTI Party Depose the Government?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

#IceBucketChallenge and hashtag activism

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

A bellwether for what not to do

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

'The world’s dictators love the unrest in Ferguson'

Read more

ENCORE!

Montreal Stories

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

More than half of French households will pay no income tax this year

Read more

  • Brutal IS beheading video sparks social media pushback

    Read more

  • Ex-PM Juppé announces bid for 2017 French presidential race

    Read more

  • A new view on Normandy landings, 70 years on

    Read more

  • Dozens killed as landslides strike Japan’s Hiroshima

    Read more

  • Deadly airstrikes hit Gaza as ceasefire with Israel collapses

    Read more

  • Tentative peace in Ferguson despite second fatal shooting

    Read more

  • Suspected Ebola cases in Austria, new drug raises hopes

    Read more

  • WWII anniversary highlights best - and worst - of Paris police

    Read more

  • Headscarf at the beach sparks French MEP’s fury

    Read more

  • Iraqi army clashes with militants in Tikrit after retaking key dam

    Read more

  • Video: Life in under-siege Donetsk

    Read more

  • Racism, riots and police violence: USA under scrutiny

    Read more

  • ‘Let it be’: Londoners sick of Abbey Road tourists

    Read more

Culture

Franco-Swiss documentary tackles US economic woes with a twist

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Jon FROSCH

Latest update : 2010-08-18

In his new documentary “Cleveland Versus Wall Street”, Swiss director Jean-Stéphane Bron examines the US subprime and housing crises through an unusual lens: the movie stages a trial that pits struggling Midwesterners against Wall Street bankers.

Arriving on the heels of Michael Moore’s cheeky “Capitalism: A Love Story” and ahead of Charles Ferguson’s more rigorously investigative “Inside Job”, a new documentary from a Swiss filmmaker tackles the US economic crisis with a bold and unusual approach.

Jean-Stéphane Bron’s “Cleveland Versus Wall Street” (which screened at Cannes last May and premieres on French screens Wednesday) uses real citizens, lawyers, and a judge in a trial that never happened: the people of Cleveland, Ohio, hit hard by a flailing economy, face off against Wall Street bankers who issued subprime loans blamed for costing residents their homes.

A cast of real-life characters

How did a French-speaking director who claimed in a promotional interview to “know nothing about finance or the economy” end up shooting a mock court case revolving around economic ethics in a struggling Midwestern city? First came a desire to film what he called “capitalism in action”. “I had the feeling that economic forces had taken over all other forces, be they political or ideological”, explained Bron in the interview.

Then he read that people from Cleveland had tried and failed to bring Wall Street banks to court on accusations of liability for damage caused to the city by widespread foreclosures. Bron decided he would give these people a chance to get the justice they were seeking – even if the trial’s outcome would be symbolic only. He recruited witnesses on both sides of the conflict: locals who had to leave their houses, Wall Street bankers who explain the lending practices under scrutiny, US economic specialists, and an ex-drug-dealer-turned-subprime-salesman who earned commission by pulling in buyers from the kind of poor neighbourhoods in which he grew up.

Filling in the legal roles are the Cleveland prosecutor who filed the original suit, an out-of-town defence attorney determined to absolve Wall Street banks of responsibility, a judge, and a diverse jury that looks like a microcosm of US society, with a young African-American single mother sandwiched between an elderly Tea Party activist and a Polish immigrant.

Despite the premise of an orchestrated trial, Bron considers his film to be a documentary. “Nothing was anticipated, written, or rehearsed”, he noted in the press interview. “I heard the testimonies for the first time as we filmed them. And I heard the verdict when we shot the jury deliberations”.

The element of suspense

The director indeed lets the showdown between people displaced by the housing crisis and stand-ins for the American economic system unfold naturally. He never appears onscreen or strikes a tone of personal outrage à la Michael Moore. Nevertheless, Bron’s point of view seems to be carried by a lone figure who observes the proceedings: Barbara Anderson, a local activist whose passionate argument that Wall Street pads its pockets by preying on the underprivileged and undereducated, opens and closes the film. Her presence in “Cleveland versus Wall Street” indicates Bron’s sympathy for people whose bid for a piece of the American dream (owning a nice house) veers toward nightmare.

The fact that the jury entrusted to determine the legacy of the director’s experiment is free to disagree with him – or at least to decide that victims in Cleveland do not necessarily mean villains on Wall Street – is the novel twist here. That element of suspense goes a long way in compensating for the tedium and repetition that characterize even the most heavily edited courtroom trials.

And if none of the arguments or emotions in “Cleveland Versus Wall Street” are new, the fictitious court case enables a Swiss filmmaker to zoom in on a quintessentially American question: how much should individuals be responsible for their own well-being, and to what extent should institutions be held accountable? The jury’s struggle to come up with an appropriate answer gives this slightly dry, rather morally heavy-handed documentary a much-needed jolt of drama and ambiguity.
 

Date created : 2010-08-18

  • CINEMA

    Buzz mounts around David Fincher’s Facebook movie ahead of festival premiere

    Read more

  • CINEMA

    ‘Lesbian marriage movie’ shakes up US cinema

    Read more

COMMENT(S)