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Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “The Flaw” Director David Sington

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | "The Flaw" Director David Sington

“The Flaw” makes one thing clear from the outset – there was nothing simple about the U.S. financial collapse of 2007. Within minutes, experts had identified plenty of culprits: market failure, a credit culture, a wage crisis, a debt crisis, and upward redistribution of income. That’s economic shorthand for fasten your seatbelt.

David Sington’s rigorously constructed analysis of the meltdown, told entirely by economists, brokers, bankers, and borrowers, plays like a financial ‘whodunit.’ Moving past the usual suspects, it creates a vivid historical context through which to view twentieth-century American capitalism.

Bolstered by graphics and animation (ironically plucked from postwar cartoons extolling free markets) the film renders complex ideas digestible and argues that capitalism has changed in the last 30 years — and not for the better. Once sold on consumer power through borrowing and a higher standard of living, we realize we bought into a lie. “The Flaw” has burst the bubble. [Description courtesy of Sundance Institute]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the World Dramatic & Documentary Competitions and NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

“The Flaw”
World Cinema Documentary Competition
Director: David Sington
Screenwriter: David Sington
Executive Producers: Stephen Lambert, Christopher Hird, Luke Johnson
Associate Producers: Sarah Kinsella, Heather Walsh, Celine Fitzmaurice
Composer: Philip Sheppard
Cinematographer: Clive North
Editor: David Fairhead
Animation: Peter J. Richardson

Responses courtesy of “The Flaw” director David Sington:

How a Super 8 and audience laughter hooked Sington to filmmaking…

As a small boy I was fascinated by my father’s Super 8 movie camera, and always wanted to be the one to use it on holiday, but it wasn’t until I was at University that I started making films. My first was a 3-minute silent comedy shown as part of a student revue. When the audience laughed in all the right places I was hooked. Ever since then I have never been without a film to work on!

Money first, then the idea…

The genesis of “The Flaw” was rather unusual. Normally you have an idea for a film and then spend ages trying to raise the money. In this case I was given the money first, and it took me ages to come up with the idea! It was one of our executive producers Luke Johnson’s idea to make a film about the fundamental causes of the financial crisis of 2008. As a successful entrepreneur Luke sensed that the crisis would lead to a prolonged economic slump, and that people would want to know what had happened to the US economy.

Luke also had the resources and contacts to privately fund a film. It was co-execs Christo Hird (“Black Gold,” “End of the Line”) and Stephen Lambert (“Undercover Boss”) who asked me if I would be interested in making the film. The attraction for me was that I was starting with a blank sheet of paper – since at that point I didn’t know what the fundamental causes of the crisis were, and as far as I could see, neither did anyone else!

The crew, Weimar, ’50s cartoons and the “real” roots of the crisis…

My first priority, of course, was to get the right team in place: film editor David Fairhead, cinematographer Clive North, Composer Philip Sheppard and Associate Producers Sarah Kinsella, Heather Walsh and Celine Fitzmaurice. This was the happy crew (most of them) that helped me make “In the Shadow of the Moon,” which we took to Sundance in 2007. I wouldn’t dream of taking on anything difficult or big without their help!

I knew from the outset that I wanted the film to have a sardonic, darkly humorous tone, and so Philip and I decided on a Kurt Weil-inspired score that would subliminally evoke the decadence (and inflation) of Weimar Germany. So we had music cues from day one in the edit, which is how I like to work. I also hired a superb Archive Producer, Jacqui Edwards, who uncovered a treasure-trove of 1950s cartoons extolling the virtues of capitalism which David was able to deploy to great comic effect.

The biggest challenge was to work out what the root causes of the crisis actually were! After three months in the cutting room I was pretty clear that the material I had gathered was telling a rather different story to the one I was reading about in the financial press, but I lacked the organizing idea that would make the film gel.

It was at this stage that I was very grateful for the patience of my colleagues! Eventually I stumbled across some academic research on the history of US income distribution over the past century which brought everything into focus. The challenge then was to find a way to make this essentially statistical and numerical information become a “character” in the film. If we have succeeded it is largely thanks to our brilliant graphics designer Peter J. Richardson.

Humor & statistics: A smash or bust?

I think this is a very unusual film – I certainly have never seen anything quite like it! It sets out to make a sophisticated economic argument, including quite a lot of statistical information, yet at the same time it’s still trying to be a movie, with characters, a storyline and a fair bit of humor. I can’t wait to see what people make of it! I have the feeling it will either be a smash hit or a total bust (not unlike the economy, in fact).

What’s happening after “The Flaw…”

Right now I am editing a feature doc about global warming, and working on an ambitious project to collaborate with the scientific community to make a whole series of films (The Science Documentary Project). But the other day I came up with the scenario for a narrative feature, which would be fun to do and not cost much money – which is the secret of happiness in filmmaking! So that’s the gleam in my eye!

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