CHICAGO – State officials marked National Fair Housing Month today by launching a week-long, free screening of American Casino, a film on the mortgage loan scheme that caused economic disaster for millions of Americans. Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) Director Rocco Claps was joined by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, Division of Banking Director Manuel Flores to discuss the state’s efforts to protect individuals from discrimination in housing, mortgage fraud and predatory lending practices. Governor Pat Quinn proclaimed April as Fair Housing Month in Illinois to create greater awareness of state laws that prohibit discrimination in housing.
“American Casino addresses the complicated, unethical actions of those participating in a mortgage loan scam that shook our economy and pulled many into financial ruin,” said Director Claps. “We are proud to present this film and of our Department’s efforts to protect individuals from discrimination in housing.”
This year marks the 43rd anniversary of the enactment of the U.S. Federal Fair Housing Act and the 32nd anniversary of the Illinois Human Rights Act – laws that were enacted to bar discriminatory acts based on several protected classes including race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability and familial status.
“Like the stories depicted in American Casino, Illinois families have equally tragic stories to tell,” said Attorney General Madigan. “Every day, my office receives calls for help from homeowners on the verge of losing their homes. I continue to seek justice on their behalf, including the thousands of frustrated Illinois homeowners whose efforts to modify their mortgages have been thwarted by loan servicers that are neither willing nor able to help them.”
Throughout the week, IDHR and other state agencies will be on-site at each film-screening to raise awareness about fair housing rights, foreclosures, and ways to avoid rescue mortgage fraud.
Created by award-winning filmmakers Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, the critically-acclaimed American Casino carries you through the subprime mortgage catastrophe and its impact on every day people. An infamous email from one Standard & Poor’s analyst to another read, ‘Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of cards falters.’ American Casino shows how deregulation and discrimination played a role in subprime and predatory lending practices. The film portrays a complete before-and-after journey of this crisis; filming began before any of the big bank bankruptcies and continued throughout the crisis showing specific examples of how people were caught in the mess.
The film captures two worlds that seem thousands of miles apart: talking heads on Wall Street describing the climate of greed and carelessness that produced the financial meltdown and those who were at the receiving end of this gamble. Unlike other documentaries, such as Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story which draws its effect from personal attacks at the people responsible, American Casino truly attempts to educate and explain the economic forces responsible. The movie depicts the extreme effects – from gainfully employed but homeless school teachers to pools at abandoned mansions that act as breeding grounds for West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes.
The New Yorker’s David Denby called the film “a terrific documentary” and “a lucid and comprehensive picture of a rotten system.” Los Angeles Times’ Garry Goldstein says its “hard not to be shocked by this stranger-than fiction look at how a toxic mix of unbridled greed, mass financial manipulation and the probable effect of a 2000 government deregulation act upended our nation’s entire economy.” Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz described American Casino as “where mortgages replace the chips,” and as “a powerful and shocking look at the subprime lending scandal…if you want to understand how the US financial system failed and how mortgage companies ripped off the poor, see this film,” said Stiglitiz.
“Our effort was to show that most people who defaulted on their loans weren’t irresponsible, reckless individuals,” said Andrew Cockburn, the film’s writer. “These individuals were every-day people, who worked hard but found themselves in a situation that had spiraled out of control. Many people knew that the promotion of risky and essentially impossible loans was going on and that the system would eventually collapse. But the system continued and when the house of cards fell it placed our country into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” said Cockburn.
Leslie Cockburn, the film’s producer and director, is an experienced documentarian with more than 20 years of experience. She has made films for PBS’s Frontline and she directed and produced Peter Jennings Reporting From the Killing Fields. In 1997, Cockburn co-produced The Peacemaker starring George Clooney and Nicole Kidman. She was a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton and has produced dozens of segments for 60 Minutes, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Colombia, Zimbabwe, and Russia. She began work on American Casino in January 2008, when she and her husband Andrew, who co-produced the film, recognized the signs of a potentially devastating financial collapse.