After getting sold out of the premiere, I caught the movie last Monday. Despite taking macroeconomics in college and micro in grad school, I have little understanding of economics. I got by on math manipulation, which is how I also got by in chemistry, physics, genetics, and actuarial courses. The subject does not interest me; I only saw this movie to support Patrick Creadon and the "Wordplay" team. The 5:20 showing at the 42nd St. Regal had at most 15 people.
I had seen "An Inconvenient Truth" late in its release 2 years ago at Moving Image to see what the fuss was about. It was a science lecture. An informative science lecture about an important topic, but still a science lecture. How it made $23 million I'll never know.
Similarly, "I.O.U.S.A." is at heart an economics lesson, albeit about a very important topic. As it points out using a funny "SNL" skit, regular people shouldn't buy stuff they can't afford, but countries get away with it and put themselves in a huge hole. Brian Oakes' excellent graphics delineate the different types of deficits, illustrating what could be a dire situation. Segments were even shot in China, which holds much of our debt and benefits from our trade.
I spent much of the movie comparing it to "Wordplay," recognizing the general rhythm, editing style (hi, Doug!), format (interviewees' identifying themselves with "I'm ___" followed by a screen graphic), snippets of Patrick's voice asking questions to apparently random clueless people, Peter Golub's music (some of the doom-and-gloom backing resembles the soundtrack for the final ACPT puzzle), appearances by Bill Clinton and Jon Stewart, the credits (there's Merl, Will, Vic and Susan Fleming, baby Creadons, TJ - billed as Theodore James, John Sloss, Anne Stulz). So maybe my attention could have been more on the content.
Despite the generally downbeat data presented, the movie ended on a slightly hopeful note. Individuals and more importantly, governments, can take action to turn the tide. In this election season, candidates and voters need to be aware of the problem, and "I.O.U.S.A." is a nonpartisan presentation to heighten that awareness. In an interview, Patrick said, "Ultimately we made the film for five people: Barack Obama, John McCain and our three daughters." Young people need to see this movie. (Update: It was shown for delegates at both political conventions.)
The movie made me think about my own situation, where I've had less income and have not been saving (bad!). I'm not in debt to anyone except my future self, but as I move funds from savings to checking in order to cover living expenses, I can see how easy it is for larger institutions to get in over their heads. Right now it's savings, later it may be investments, and soon I'll be drawing from my retirement accounts and Social Security with the rest of the baby boomers. The graphs on the Social Security and Medicare liability were scary, and I'll be part of that problem.
So yes, it was an economics lesson: clear (I think I understood most of it despite my mental block against the material), amusing at times, timely (a segment was filmed after Sundance with an update on one of the main subjects), thought-provoking. Thrilling, moving, and enthralling like "Wordplay"? No.
The movie is in limited theatrical release. It's airing on PBS Independent Lens in January. I'm not sure when the DVD will be released.