February 4, 2011 / 6:50 PM / 8 years ago

Documentary "Inside Job" has inside track to Oscar

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Documentary director Charles Ferguson knew he had a great global story in the 2008 financial crisis, but he still worried that “Inside Job” could fall into the category of a boring film if not jazzed up properly.

Director Charles Ferguson (L) and producer Audrey Marrs of "No End in Sight", which is nominated for an Oscar as Best Documentary Feature, are interviewed at the International Documentary Association's annual celebration of the Academy Awards Documentary nominees in Beverly Hills, California February 20, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

So he applied tools normally associated with feature films, like expansive cinematography and what he calls “cool music” to help illustrate how America and the world ended up in the deepest financial disaster since the Great Depression.

Hollywood took notice. Ferguson won the best documentary award last month from the Directors Guild of America, making “Inside Job” a safe bet to claim the Oscar for non-fiction film when the world’s top movie honors are given out on February 27.

“I wanted the film to have good music, good cinematography, to be fast, to be funny in places, to be interesting...not a full history lecture,” said Ferguson, who also directed the Oscar-nominated Iraq war documentary “No End in Sight.

“Inside Job” starts peacefully enough with the sweeping landscapes of Iceland, the tiny nation economically frozen by the global collapse of banks and credit.

Iceland, Ferguson found, was “an incredibly clear, triple-distilled example of something that happened in the United States over a longer period of time and in a more complicated way.”

High drama ensues as Ferguson makes former U.S. government and Federal Reserve officials squirm and lose their cool as he skewers them about their role in the crisis, their ignoring of warning signs and conflicts of interest as economists and academics.

“Those were tense interviews,” said Ferguson. “But my first film was about the occupation of Iraq and I spent a month filming in Iraq in 2006. So having a tense interview with a business school professor isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

But not everyone was willing to subject themselves to Ferguson’s pointed questions.


“I would have done almost anything to be able to interview Henry Paulson or Larry Summers,” said Ferguson. Paulson, of course, was the former Goldman Sachs CEO and treasury secretary during the worst part of the 2008 crisis and Summers, a former treasury secretary and top economic advisor to Obama.

“Both men were involved in causing the crisis and then were in high governmental positions during and after the crisis,” said Ferguson, adding “I would have wanted very much to ask them difficult questions.”

Ferguson also pointedly criticizes President Barack Obama for choosing an economic and regulatory team of people Ferguson believes were deeply involved in events that led to the crisis.

“The political statements that he made during his campaign made many people including me hopeful that he would actually take real action about this, but unfortunately he has not done so,” said Ferguson.

Looking at the future, Ferguson says he is “somewhat optimistic” that Americans are coming to understand that the financial system is poorly run and regulated and that they will put pressure on political leaders to fix it.

As for his own filmmaking future, he’s undecided. There could be a feature film or another documentary, but not another chapter of the still unspooling drama of the financial crisis.

“I think I’m done with Wall Street documentaries for the moment,” he said.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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