Inside Job examines 2008 financial crisis - Charles Ferguson interview
Matt Damon-narrated documentary challenges notion that crash was unavoidable
Charles Ferguson, the director of Inside Job, thinks there’s criminal fraud at the heart of the financial crisis. He explains why to Tom Dawson
Charles Ferguson’s Oscar-nominated documentary Inside Job is a rigorous examination of the causes and consequences of the 2008 financial crisis in America, which is estimated to have cost some $20 trillion and led to millions of people around the world losing their jobs and their savings. There have been magazine articles, books and TV documentaries that have sought to make sense of the fiscal meltdown, yet Inside Job is the first major American film to dissect the events that threw the global economy into turmoil. Fittingly it’s released in cinemas soon after the publication of a scathing US official report which declared that the crisis itself was avoidable, being the result of ‘human action and inaction, not of Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire.’
In relating this tale of disastrous deregulation, colossal greed and reckless lending, Ferguson argues that what actually happened was criminal fraud on a gigantic scale, hence the heist movie title. Sub-prime mortgages were handed out like confetti and ratings agencies certified dubious investments, whilst bankers bet against the very loans that had been sold to house-purchasers. ‘Lots of us wonder why there has not been a single criminal prosecution against a financial executive, as there were in previous crises like Enron’, explains the director, whose previous film No End in Sight examined the catastrophic US occupation of Iraq. ‘A lot of the blame has to lie with the Obama administration. He had a special and historically unique opportunity to change the situation when he came into office. He appointed to his government men like Jacob Lew and Michael Froman, who had been executives at Citigroup … [That company] had lost several billions of dollars. Yet they got appointed to senior jobs.’
The analytical, rationally argued approach of Ferguson in Inside Job – he’s particularly good at asking high-level interviewees probing questions – is very different from the grandstanding stunts Michael Moore deployed in his didactic Capitalism: A Love Story, where the filmmaker cordoned off a bank with ‘crime scene’ tape. In fact a more pertinent precursor to Inside Job is Alex Gibney’s impressive 2005 documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, which lucidly investigated America’s then largest corporate bankruptcy. Gibney’s comments on the Enron saga that, ‘People here [in America] are just furious that the speculators have walked away with a whole piece of dough and left us holding the bag’, certainly ring true in the UK and across the Atlantic in 2011, as the long-term social and economic repercussions of the crisis are being painfully felt. Interestingly, one of Ferguson’s talking heads in Inside Job is the ex-governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who happens to be the subject of Gibney’s forthcoming film Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer.
Ferguson also reveals that he wanted, as far as possible, to keep financial jargon out of Inside Job in order to be able to reach a non-specialist audience. ‘When it was necessary to use technical information’, he continues, ‘I tried to explain it clearly and use informative graphics. The film had to look good and move fast, and at moments to be humorous. We didn’t want Inside Job to be a two-hour university lecture. It had to be something that people would enjoy watching and find compelling.’
Selected release from Fri 18 Feb.