By Michael Corkery
Independent filmmaker Danny Schecter would like to remind Wall Street that the disdain for bankers “is not coming from a bunch of lefties in some basement in the East Village. It is coming from mainstream America.”
Schecter hopes such mainstream angst can propel his latest film, “Plunder: The Crime Story of Our Time,” into the big leagues. Filmed on a budget of less than $50,000 and based on his book of the same title, the movie traces the roots of the financial crisis from the home owners who defaulted on their mortgages to the Wall Street banks loading up on mortgage investments.
Watch the movie trailer here.
The film sounds like the many books and made-for-television movies about the crisis. But Schecter, who has worked at ABC News and CNN, promises that his narrative is different because it approaches the subject like a crime story, not a mere financial story.
“This financial crisis is not only a shame, it is a crime,” Schecter said when Deal Journal reached him by phone. “But this is not about one individual, like Bernie Madoff. It is about a set of institutions committing a crime.”
The crimes, according to Schecter, are the home mortgages that were extended to people that the banks knew couldn’t afford them or the pools of mortgage securities that were sold to investors for more than the banks knew they were worth.
But if these were crimes, why have so few people been successfully prosecuted? The Bear Stearns hedge-fund managers were acquitted, and prosecutors have indicated they aren’t likely to press charges against executives in American International Group’s financial-products division responsible for a chunk of the losses that laid low the New York insurer.
“If there was more public heat, suddenly the people who can’t prosecute would find ways to prosecute,’’ Schecter said. “There would be more energy to get something done.”
Schecter says that heat certainly isn’t coming from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that has been holding hearings this week on the causes of the subprime mortgage debacle. He said the FCIC hearings don’t stand up to Watergate hearings or the Pecoria hearings following the Great Depression, which were run more in prosecutorial style. “It’s not an investigation,’’ says Schecter of the FCIC. “It’s a Harvard seminar.”
If nothing else, the movie promises to serve up some interesting footage: The film begins with protestors outside Morgan Stanley Chairman John Mack’s Connecticut house. Schecter also has interviews with former Bear Stearns bankers and one of the executives indicted in the Crazy Eddie accounting fraud case from the 1980s.
Schecter insists he is no Michael Moore. For one, Moore has backing from Hollywood and Schecter is on a shoe-string budget. Also, Schecter says he isn’t indicting capitalism, as Moore did in his most recent film. “It is the system we live under,’’ Schecter said. “The question is: is it working? No, it is not. Why? Because people are scamming the system.”
“Plunder” can be downloaded from iTunes and is being sold on Amazon.com. The movie also has been shown at college campuses in the New York City area.
“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men,
they create for themselves,
in the course of time,
a legal system that authorizes it,
and a moral code that glorifies it.”
– Political economist Frederic Bastiat, The Law 
“I used to think of Wall Street as a financial center.
I now think of it as a crime scene.”
– Filmmaker Danny Schecter, Plunder (2009)
DANNY SCHECHTER, “The News Dissector,” has spent decades as a truth teller in the media. He has worked in print, radio, local news, cable news (CNN and CNBC), network news magazines (ABC) and as an independent filmmaker and TV producer with the award-winning independent company, Globalvision.
His film “IN DEBT WE TRUST” (2006) was the first to expose Wall Street’s connection to subprime loans, predicting the economic crisis that this book investigates.