Cleveland takes on Wall Street in Cannes

Keith Taylor, a former dealer who sold hundreds of subprime mortgages, testifies to the court Saga Production

Small-town victims of the subprime crisis in the United States fight it out with bankers, in a movie to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival that opened on Wednesday.

This content was published on May 12, 2010 minutes

Cleveland vs. Wall Street, about a mock tribunal in Ohio, shows that grassroots community action can make a real difference, Swiss director Jean-Stéphane Bron tells

His documentary-style movie has been chosen for the Directors' Fortnight. Bron is one of three Swiss directors up for an award at this year’s prestigious event. Where did the idea for “Cleveland vs. Wall Street” come from?

Jean-Stéphane Bron: I’m interested in films that are not directly political, but which generate ideas and discussion.

My plan is to do a triptych with my 2003 documentary “Le Génie Helvétique” on the [Swiss] democratic process, “Cleveland vs. Wall Street” looking at finance and economics, and then a third film “War” about the link between politics and the economy on the World Trade Organization. This is currently under development, but may be released in 2012. What is the idea behind your new film?

J-S. B.: It’s very difficult to do a film on the financial system or economy. [But] this trial allowed us to bring together people like a [free-market] ideologist and someone who lost their home. What is the link between the two?

The story tells us something about the wider world we live in: do we accept what is going on? Can we change things? Have we learned from this abstract notion of subprime?

The fact that Cleveland is a small town where a few individuals are trying to do something is an example for us that we can regain control over our lives despite a system that seems out of reach.

Every day we hear about the economy; we know that it concerns us but we have the feeling that we can’t do anything about it. The trial reminds us that action is possible even if it seems small or insignificant. This year’s festival features a series of films denouncing greed. What’s your view on this trend?

J-S. B.: We haven’t exactly returned to the militant times of the 1970s, but through documentary films I think there is a desire for cinema to once again talk about the period and world we live in. Cinema is rediscovering how we are living and the questioning is very much part of the current climate.

“Wall Street” was an incredible film about the 1980s and [Oliver Stone’s new film] “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” does the same about the world we live in now. How badly has Cleveland been affected by the subprime crisis?

J-S. B.: Clevelanders call their city “The ground zero” or epicentre of the sub-prime crisis. There is an analogy with a tsunami or earthquake; the impact there has been very violent. One character from your film stands out, Barbara Anderson, a local activist with the Empowering and Strengthening Ohio’s People (ESOP) organisation. Who is she?

J-S. B.: She is a mythical Antigone-like character who dares to say “no” and confronts forces that are larger than her. There is something very symbolic about her. It’s like in the face of these elusive, abstract forces you can actually do something even if it is difficult and you face defeat; that’s what I like about her actions. So, community grassroots organisations like ESOP can make a difference in the US?

J-S. B.: Absolutely. They are a credit to American democracy and something that really surprised me.

ESOP has a 90 per cent success rate in saving homes and renegotiating mortgages in the Cleveland region. They push and force the banks to re-negotiate with the owners.

My image of the US was of a very individualistic country, where everyone was for themselves. But in each city neighbourhood I came across community organisers who were extremely committed. Even Obama has that background; he was a former community organiser. These are people who have a great belief in their neighbourhoods and streets and that something can be done; indeed, their slogan is “Not in my backyard.”

There is something in the US democracy which is very subtle, which questions the dominant forces, even if I have no illusions about the balance of powers. It really surprised and impressed me. How does it feel to be about to taste the red-carpet treatment in Cannes?

J-S. B.: Anyone who plays tennis dreams of one day playing on Wimbledon’s Centre Court. The same goes for any film director and the Cannes Film Festival.

Simon Bradley,

Cleveland vs. Wall Street

On January 11, 2008, Josh Cohen and his partners, attorneys for the city of Cleveland, filed a lawsuit against 21 banks, which they held accountable for the wave of foreclosures that had left their city in ruins.

Since then, the bankers on Wall Street have been fighting by with all available means to avoid going to court. This film is the story of that trial.

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Cannes film festival

The Cannes film festival, the world's largest, runs from May 12-23.

The festival opens with the premiere of Ridley Scott's "Robin Hood", but like Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger", it is not one of 19 films in competition which are eligible for prizes decided by a jury headed by director Tim Burton.

The main line-up pits the likes of Iranian Abbas Kiarostami and Britain's Mike Leigh against home hopes Mathieu Amalric and Xavier Beauvois. Eagerly anticipated titles are sole US entry "Fair Game", based on the true story of CIA agent Valerie Plame and starring Sean Penn, and "Burnt by the Sun 2", the sequel to Nikita Mikhalkov's acclaimed 1994 picture about the terror of Stalinist repression.

Franco-Algerian film maker Rachid Bouchareb presents "Outside the Law", tackling Algeria's struggle for independence from France, and Mexican Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's "Biutiful" stars Oscar winner Javier Bardem.

Asia is represented by films from Thailand, Japan, China and South Korea, while Chad and Ukraine are also in contention for the coveted Palme d'Or for best picture which last year went to Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon".

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones is expected to be in town for documentary "Stones in Exile" about the recording of the band's seminal album "Exile on Main Street".

Other Swiss films being shown in Cannes include: Jean-Luc Godard’ "Film Socialisme" and the animation film "Miramare" by Michaela Müller.

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Jean-Stéphane Bron

Born in Lausanne in 1969.
1988-89: studied at Ipotesi cinema school, Italy.
1989-94: studied directing at DAVI (Département d'Audiovisuel de l'École Cantonal d'Art de Lausanne, Bussigny). 1995 Receives degree from ECAL.
Filmography: 12, chemin des Bruyères (1995); Ted Robert, le rêve américain (co-director) (1996) / Connu de nos services (1997); La bonne conduite (1999); En cavale (2001); Mais im Bundeshuus – Le génie helvétique (2003); Mon frère se marie (2006); Traders (2009)

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