This feature documentary film by Frances Causey and Donald Goldmacher underscores the fact that there only two kinds of power in America: organized money, and organized people.
“Indeed every human being on the planet is acutely aware of the current worldwide economic crisis,” the film points out. Causey (a journalist and former CNN news editor) and Goldmacher (a long-time social-issue filmmaker) are the directing and producing team behind “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream?”
The film began in May 2006 as an investigative media piece on the massive influx of illegal immigrants coming across the Arizona border, where Causey lives. But it soon became apparent that the issue of illegal immigration was part of a larger story about how the American economy had been transformed, according to the film, “to serve the interests of a few at the expense of all workers at all rungs of the socio-economic ladder.”
“Fortunately,” stated director Goldmacher, “in the summer of 2006, we stumbled across a newly written book, “The Global Class War,” which made it clear that American businesses had morphed into multinational corporations with no allegiance to the success of the American economy, and would do anything to increase their bottom line—even going so far as to impoverish the American middle class.” And Causey added, “There has been very little discussion about income inequality in the United States or the prevailing two-class system which has emerged with an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. The need for this analysis became a great motivator for us to tackle a complex and multilayered story that we believe has not been told to public audiences from start (the dismantling of the New Deal) to finish (an ongoing attack on the middle class).”
As the American manufacturing sector was being outsourced, Wall Street successfully lobbied Congress and successive presidents (the film stresses), to drastically deregulate financial institutions and transactions. This fueled the mergers-and-acquisitions boom, leveraged buyouts, risky junk bonds, hedge funds and exotic “derivatives” that promised high returns on minimal underlying assets. The film reveals how corporations tore up jobs and communities to show profits that matched Wall Street’s new shot-term horizons. Meanwhile, secure pensions evaporated, replaced by 401(k) plans, as middle-class Americans were sold on an illusion on “democratized wealth”—a mirage of an ever-rising stock market in which everyone could be a millionaire. The final effort to shift wealth to those who are already rich was the effort to privatize Social Security by former President George Bush. Though that effort failed, there is again talk of cutting “entitlement” programs.
“Heist” calls into question the current structure of our economy, examining alternative pathways to economic justice for Americans. The film posits that “a fair economy requires that those responsible for the economic meltdown be held accountable, that rigorous reforms must be enacted into law, the American people must resist the takeover of our country by large corporations, wealth transfer to the very rich must be reversed and a new, fair, sustainable local model of economic resilience be accelerated.”
“Heist” is structured as a political thriller, and the filmmakers effectively weave past and present throughout the film, connecting the dots for audiences who haven’t been exposed to the full story of the American political economy. By revealing the perpetrators in the slide of the U.S. economy into a two-class system and the dramatic political wins that began in the 1970s, “Heist” is a warning as well as a vision of a new future. According to the filmmakers, “The film will be indispensable in bridging the gap between economic experts and ordinary taxpayers, in demanding accountability and building support for economic justice. Viewers will come away from the film feeling that they understand who broke the economy and how, and knowing how to fix it.”
The film premiered in October 2011 at the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival and has been screening around the country at various theaters and film festivals, including the Desert Sky Cinema in Green Valley, Ariz.
Ultimately, the producers hope the film can serve as a sober warning about what is happening to our country and provide some ideas of how to restore fairness and community, while reining in the power of corporations. The underlying idea of “Heist” is that knowledge is power, and that social change comes from the bottom up. Creating a social movement for a new economy is critical to reclaiming quality of life for American workers, and compelling, fact-driven storytelling is an essential way to achieve this.
For me personally, I’ll be interested in following the progress of the film to see if it gains Academy Award stature.