SUNDANCE REVIEW: The Flaw

Smart and entertaining documentary examines the roots of the recent economic collapse.

David Sington's documentary effectively breaks down the recent economic turmoil for regular audiences using entertaining and sometimes touching footage.

PARK CITY — The old expression “the rich get richer” has never seemed more true than in David Sington’s devastating documentary The Flaw about the causes of the 2007 economic meltdown in the U.S. Talking to an impressive array of academics, bankers, and victims, he comes to the conclusion that the unequal distribution of wealth was behind the collapse. Using vintage cartoons to illustrate complicated concepts, the film is informative, humorous, and, at times, even entertaining. New Video picked up the film at Sundance and has plans for a small theatrical release followed by thorough DVD and digital distribution.

The title of the film comes from the testimony a humbled Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, gave before Congress in 2008 in which he admitted there was a flaw in the economic system that he hadn’t previously seen and it has shaken his view of the world. Greenspan and most people in government had subscribed to the efficient-market theory, explained here as the belief that the financial sector would act in rational self-interest and that market forces would make the necessary price adjustments.
 
It didn’t happen. Instead, $1.5 trillion ended up in the hands of 1 percent of the population. So as most people were going down, they tried to hitch a ride with the small group that was going up. But the problem was wages were not growing, and the middle class was essentially investing money it didn’t have—and was encouraged to do so by the banks. 
 
With the help of people like Yale economist and housing expert Robert Shiller, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and economic historian Louis Hyman, Sington demonstrates how what occurred was a quasi-historical replay of the great financial collapse of the ’20s and ’30s. But he is not just pushing numbers around. What lends his account emotional weight is the testimony of ordinary people such as Ed Andrews, a former economics correspondent for The New York Times. Andrews obviously understood economic forces as well as any civilian, but it didn’t help. Already in debt from a divorce, he anticipated greater cash flow and borrowed more money to hold on to his house. But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t keep his head above water.
 
Even more wrenching is the testimony of Antoinette Coffi-Ahibo, an optician from Haiti who battled her bank to restructure her loan so she and her family could keep their modest home in Queens. Although she eventually won this battle, the prognosis for her winning the war is not great.
 
By establishing the intellectual framework of what took place and then demonstrating the effects in the real world, Sington has cleverly taken complex, often abstract concepts and made them accessible for a lay audience. Outstanding archival work by Jacqui Edwards in collecting amusing images over which Sington and his editor David Fairhead could place the cold, hard facts, helps make the message understandable. It’s unfortunate Greenspan, who claims he just wasn’t smart enough to see what was coming, hadn’t been able to see this film before leading the country into near economic ruin. 
 
Venue: Sundance Film Festival,  World Cinema Documentary Competition
Production companies: Studio Lambert, Dartmouth Films
Director: David Sington
Executive producers: Stephen Lambert, Christopher Hird, Luke Johnson
Director of photography: Clive North
Music: Philip Sheppard
Editor: David Fairhead
No rating, 82 minutes
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