Finding The Flaw

David Sington and David Fairhead discuss their documentary about the 2008 financial crisis.

by Val Kermode

Director David Sington and his editor, David Fairhead, were at Doc/Fest to answer press questions after the screening of their new documentary, The Flaw. The film examines the US financial crisis of 2008 and considers how it came about. There are interviews with experts and a look at the theories involved.

The first question was about casting. How were the people chosen?

Sington explained how he approached a range of economic experts - academics, not just bankers - because he saw the crisis primarily as a failure of ideology. He was pleased to find these articulate people who could offer explanations in lay terms, and also the Wall Street tour guide, someone who could explain what was going on and could be used to link this together.

And how did he choose this subject for a film?

In a reversal of what usually happens – Find your subject, then search around for finance – Sington was phoned and asked to make a film about the financial crisis and told “By the way, it's fully funded.” The money came from private investors. David stressed that the two main backers had very different political views.

He then went out and found the characters. But seeing the graph (shown in the film) of income distribution was what crystallised the idea for him - “the magic key” to the film.

His opinion of the bankers?

“In my experience top bankers are not evil, just not that bright, with very little insight into their own situation. It's very difficult to think clearly when people are shoving money at you.”

Unlike Michael Moore, Sington does not see evidence of conspiracy. “I'm not a believer in conspiracy theories of any kind.”

What about solutions? None seem to be offered in the film.

I was reminded here of a Q and A at last year's Doc/Fest when the same question was asked of Michael Moore following the showing of his film Capitalism: A Love Story. I was struck by the contrast in answers. Sington, despite admitting to getting very little sleep after last night's party, had an impressive amount to say. First he told us it was not his intention to include solutions in his film, but to “start a conversation about the causes”. But his personal solution? He referred to his previous film In The Shadow Of The Moon, and pointed out that the Apollo programme created 400,000 jobs. Raising the tax to 50% on just the top 0.1% of earners in America would bring in a trillion dollars over ten years, which could be invested in solving the energy crisis.

He also has a lot to say on the subject of income inequality and David Cameron's interest in pay multiples – setting top salaries at fixed multiples of their employees.

On a different note, both Davids were praised for their exceptionally good use of archive film. They reminded us that the film has no commentary and the clips are a crucial part of the format. Sington says that although the Fifties animation videos are amusing now, it was not his intention to mock them. They came from an age when people (e.g. mortgage brokers) were encouraged to do their jobs with the aim of helping people and not just to make as much money as possible.

Sington admitted that “This was the most difficult film we have made.” He didn't write a scenario. “I almost never have a list of questions (for interviews). He hopes for spontaneity and believes in “listening to the material” and being flexible in the direction the film might take.

It will be no surprise to hear that he is currently working on a film about climate change. It will be eagerly awaited.

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