The following article was written by Robert McTavish as part of a series of articles about filmmakers coming to the Salt Spring Film Festival on March 6-8, 2015. Filmmaker Harold Crooks will be attending the festival and lead a discussion about the film. The filmmaker series is sponsored by Harbour House.
The Price We Pay
At first glance, it seems an unusual career path. Harold Crooks went from McGill University to a fellowship at the Delhi School of Economics before making the jump to the London Film School. In Delhi he studied under the then-head of the Planning Board of India, a mentor with decidedly socialist leanings. But, says Crooks, “it dawned on me that that was not the direction the world was heading in. So I thought I would be more useful in documentary.”
That path now makes perfect sense, with his subsequent cinematic output making a strong case for filmmakers steeped in other disciplines. As a producer, writer and director – including co-writing the narration in The Corporation and co-directing Surviving Progress, his expertise on global economics has more than proven “useful,” for Crooks aims to make documentaries “concerned with how powerful institutions impact ordinary lives.”
His new film, The Price We Pay, does just that by assembling a masterful group of former insiders to strip away the mystery and reveal the high finance tricks of global tax evasion in a clear, and infuriating, context. This populist approach to the dire topic aims to hit a nerve, as it did recently in France with unprecedented success for a documentary – showing on 40 screens in the commercial multiplexes. It won’t open in Canada until March 13th but lucky viewers can catch it early at the Salt Spring Film Festival.
“Critics appreciate the way it seems to leave audiences enraged,” says Crooks, including many who didn’t even expect to be engaged. “I think they’re quite shocked to grasp it.” Inspired by the book La Crise fiscale qui vient, by the film’s co-writer Brigitte Alepin, the film adds stirring visual metaphors to expose how “offshore” finance and the “cloud” economy are quite frankly a threat to the modern democratic state. Crooks even uses hurricane footage from the banking haven of the Cayman Islands to put an exclamation point on the fact that with it’s virtual economy, “there’s actually nothing there. It had zero effect.” His bottom line for this crash course in legalized tax inequality? “The ambition from the beginning was that it be a cinematic vision.”
That vision, while fascinating, is also bleak. Crooks clearly marks out the polarized worlds of the haves and have-nots, the impending death of the middle-class and welfare state, and the birth of a new corporate nobility over the ruins of the broken social contract. While people lose jobs to a winner-take-all digital economy led by internet commerce, national tax burdens shift onto their shoulders to compensate for the trillions in corporate profits safe in offshore tax havens. It is a recipe for disaster.
“When I began the film the idea wasn’t on the front pages and now it is,” Crooks says, offering hope for radical reform. “Even inequality wasn’t. But people are focusing now like never before.” He points out efforts for a “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions and says consciousness is growing partly due to people like Thomas Piketty, who appears in the film to push the idea that countries must join together to battle corporate dominance. “He’s sold a million and a half books about it,” Crooks says, responding to why the difference between “the spirit” and “the letter” of the law doesn’t seem to be taught in our elite business schools. “He’s shaken the foundations of orthodox teaching, showing how the system is rigged and that the status quo cannot hold our prosperity.”
Crooks invokes the old saying that “those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.” Yet to reach the larger public, The Price We Pay finds substantial insiders who do talk. Even cynics can’t help but appreciate the raising consciousness of tax inequality and its consequences. To that end, Harold Crooks will appear in person with his film, along with friend Mark Achbar (The Corporation), at this year’s Festival to continue the conversation. After all, it is all of our business.