Some questions I’ve been asked about ‘Money Puzzles’, ahead of the first UK screenings in Crewe, London and Liverpool over the next few days.
What are the origins of ‘Money Puzzles’ and how do they fit in with your background as a documentarist?
‘Money Puzzles’ is a sequel to ‘Secret City’ (2012), which is about the City of London—the square mile that has been described as ‘a state within a state’. ‘Secret City’ was made in the wake of the Occupy movement, which concentrated attention on the City as the Vatican of financial capitalism. ‘Money Puzzles’ reverses the perspective and looks outward, beyond the citadel of finance, towards the global system of financial capital of which the City is one of the principal agents.
The idea goes back several years – some films you make quickly and some gestate over a long period – but the original concept was very different: about money and psychoanalysis, and how children learn about money. The children are still there at the beginning, but the focus has shifted – partly as a result of making ‘Secret City’. I was doing a lot of background research when Syriza was elected in Greece, and I was able to join a group organised by Johnna Montgomerie of PERC at Goldsmiths, on a trip to Athens, and the film began to take shape.
Have you unearthed any surprising revelations during the making of ‘Money Puzzles’?
‘Money Puzzles’ is a counter-narrative to mainstream economic orthodoxy. The film is not about unearthing revelations, but making sense of something we handle everyday, but which confuses us when we stop and think about it. For example, where does money come from? The cash which flows through our pockets is only 3% of the money supply. The rest is created by private banks when they make loans, in other words, money is mostly debt. Well, for many people this could well come as a revelation.
Do you feel that current events, such as Brexit and the election victory of Donald Trump, have been effected by austerity politics?
Both Brexit and Trumpit are the results of the growing inequalities produced by austerity, which is falsely proposed as the solution to an economic crisis resulting from the disastrous failure of an economic system which favours a small economic elite and rides roughshod over the lives of the vast majority of citizens.
How has creating ‘Money Puzzles’ affected your outlook on the world we live in today?
We are confronted by an overweening economic system and a weakened political system threatened by strong fascistoid currents. Travelling around Europe and filming local groups involved in solidarity, running food banks, fighting against eviction or the privatisation of health services and so forth – this convinces me of the need to move beyond the limits of established politics, to find progressive solutions at ground level, community-led and capable of renewing the struggle for a fair, just and truly socialist politics. It seems to me that this is beginning to happen, but there’s a long way to go, and right now, the immediate future is very uncertain.
What advice might you have for aspiring documentarians seeking to create work of their own?
First, it isn’t easy, so you have to be committed. Second, research is vital: you need to know everything you can about your subject, from many different angles. Third, documentary is about the here-and-now, so plan but don’t prejudge: as the Brazilian critic José Carlos Avellar put it: reality is your co-author – and the camera is also an actor in that reality. Fourth, once you’ve got a rough-cut, show it to two or three people whose judgement you trust, and get their feedback. Last, don’t compromise.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention regarding ‘Money Puzzles’?
‘Money Puzzles’ dispenses with the conventions of the mainstream documentary – the supposedly all-knowing narrator, the supposedly balanced opinions – and turns to different voices to construct a dialogue that includes children, students, solidarity volunteers and activists, critical economists and politicians, journalists, even a bitcoin trader and two former ministers of economy in Argentina. Made under academic auspices on a minimal budget, ‘Money Puzzles’ employs a form of dialectical montage in which the film’s fieldwork is juxtaposed with the discourses of money nowadays to be found on television and the web, be it the news or comedy shows, independent documentaries or a video of a flamenco protest in the foyer of a bank in Spain. The film offers no pat answers or ready-made policies, but through this counterpoint of discourses, maps out a series of issues that are both crucial and inescapable for the twenty-first century citizen.