DCFF ’12: Festival Best Doc Calls for Real American ‘Bailout’

“We made this movie because people are getting pulverized into fine white powder all across the country.”– John Titus

Hard at work blowing the banks' hardly-earned cash.

All of us gamble everyday and when we lose, we lose. But when banks gamble? Well, that’s different. With previous projects taking him to Lebanon and South Sudan, Director Sean Fahey was by no means a stranger to tragedy. And yet never expected find it so readily, both down the street and across the country. The story of what he describes as the,  “ghettoizing of our entire nation,” alongside the hopelessness left in its wake, ‘Bailout’ is not just a portrait of greed but also a flesh-and-blood accounting of the victims. Equal parts booze-fueled road-trip, heart-torquing exposé and jaw-grinding indictment of corporate corruption, the 2012 Derby City Film Festival Best Documentary explores the lives of Americans, “in all stages of being screwed by Wall Street,” while detailing a coherent and painfully understandable argument for how and why it both originated and persists. Fahey jokes that sometimes the weight is such that he wishes he could, “go back a year and just take the blue pill,” but ultimately asserts that, “Wall Street can’t lose unless we do something about it.”

Through the lens of what Fahey describes as a “hybridized documentary narrative”, ‘Bailout’ explores the fallout of the mortgage crisis and subsequent big-bank rescues with an intermixed combination of family and individual testimonials, expert interviews and a real-life, too-hot-for-reality-TV road-trip. Central to the road-trip in question is John Titus, a successful Chicago patent attorney turned vehement civil-disobeyer. Titus has decided to stop paying his mortgage and instead blow the money on an all-out trip to Las Vegas, declaring, “the banks made terrible gambles and they were rewarded for it. Why not me?” Cramming friends Ruben Castillo, Nicole Erhardt, comedian John Fox and musician Sergio Mayora into a thirty-foot Winnebago, Titus and company embark on a month-long,  Sin-City-bound, “geriatric Jackass” road-trip passing through Indianapolis, Louisville, Chicago, St. Louis and all parts between.

Throughout the entirety of ‘Bailout’, and in addition to the manic, often alcohol-laden antics of the Winnebago-bandits, Fahey takes every opportunity to meet and learn from the everyday people who’ve seen their American dream threatened or flattened by the threat of foreclosure. These vignettes include victims along every step of this timeline of personal turmoil, whether they be treading water, fighting eviction or long since booted from a house that was planned to be grown old in. Pre-production consisted of an extended research period in order to identify unique stories at all points along the trip, with three full-time fact-finders reaching out to potential subjects via Craigslist questionnaires and other outlets. Fahey said that some of the most heartbreaking tales were of those in the direst situations of all, including a tent city called Hopeville outside of St. Louis and a community of people living in drainage tunnels underneath the Las Vegas strip, as detailed in the book Beneath the Neon by Matthew O’Brien. He somberly recalled a transient man in Nebraska by whom he was told, “this is the first time in a while I’ve felt any manner of self-respect.”

This man lives in a tunnel underneath the Las Vegas strip.

Fahey said of the style of his film during a post-screening Q&A on Saturday of the festival that, “we knew we had to make Sesame Street for grownups.” Rather than demeaning or oversimplified, he went on to explain that he and John Titus, who he described as the brain-trust behind the project, wanted the final product to be equal parts entertaining and educational. Thus, the multi-faceted nature and often raucous humor of ‘Bailout’, which Fahey admitted that even some of his friends came to question, was vital in ensuring its message was not only understandable, but accessible as well. In terms of the argument itself, which is assisted greatly by some excellent expert commentary as the narrative progresses, in addition some rather inspired likenesses of Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke as puppets, the intention was to focus primarily on five easily identifiable aspects of fraud. Fahey laughed that it was a testament to the elegant simplicity of Titus’ argument that some of the film’s more unruly characters could still tackle and explain the foreclosure crisis in its entirety, and even at their most tipsy.

The production, stories, and general climate of ‘Bailout’ pre-date the Occupy Wall Street protests by several months, but are in many ways quite prescient in terms of a building mentality of outrage and communal awareness. Fahey himself found the movement incredibly provocative and was among those at Zuccotti Park in the earliest weeks of the protests, while John Titus identified the continuation of the movement as one of the few game-changing factors left on the table. Many members of cast and crew have since visited a number of the Occupy encampments operating across the country, and indeed reached out to Occupy Louisville when in town for the Derby City Film Festival, even driving a number of the encampment’s residents to the screening itself. Fahey and Titus, alongside Producer Kevin Schroeder, all expressed a hope that ‘Bailout’ be used as an educational tool by Occupy and other organizations nationwide.

Using gambling as a metaphor, ‘Bailout’ aims to illuminate the crimes of a system wherein people behave egregiously irresponsible and are paid to keep doing it. And if the award-winning reception at the 4th annual Derby City Film Festival can be taken as a step in the right direction, then hopefully the tide is shifting in democracy’s favor. ‘Bailout’ will continue its festival run throughout the spring and its creators are already teasing a possible Eurozone-based follow-up. John Titus is still living in his condo, still isn’t paying his mortgage and doesn’t plan to anytime soon.

Some DCFF ’12 coverage from LouisvilleKY.com that you may have missed:

Louisvillians Nab Best Feature Alongside Sci-fi Legend
Ride the Slipstream with Alex Gaynor’s ‘Wid Winner’ 
New Albany’s Tom Whitus Carves out Kid Niche with ‘Sam Steele’
Serafini Braves New Roads with ‘Johnny’s Gone’
Danville Filmmakers get Strange with ‘Bizarnival’
‘Below Zero’ Filmmakers Signe Olynyk and Bob Schultz
‘On Our Radar’ Festival Preview Part 2
‘On Our Radar’ Festival Preview Part 1
Scifi Legend now a Lifetime Achiever
Derby City Film Festival Returns, with More Talent than Ever

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Chris Ritter <<<< twitter.com/CT_Smash <<<< ctsmash@gmail.com