Sunday, September 12, 2010

Is "Meltdown" Documentary Series Worth Watching?

Last week, the first episode of a new, four-part documentary series by Canadian writer and director Terence McKenna aired on CBC. The series title is Meltdown: The Secret History of the Global Financial Collapse. Episode one is "The Men Who Crashed the World." And it was about men, powerful men. (Where the women were is a question that I will tackle in a future post.) But it wasn't the names and faces of CEO's and government financial leaders that held my interest, it was the time line that I found fascinating and truly educational.

And it wasn't just the time line, which ran from the boom-days of 2004 through September 2008, that I found instructive. I really liked how McKenna takes viewers around the world documenting the journey of toxic (likely to default) American mortgages from the U.S. to the rest of the world. From Iceland to Dubai to Paris and London and back to New York, the documentary makes it clear that it was a global inability to value those toxic mortgage products (called "mortgage-backed securities" or "securitized debt") that caused banks to start bleeding cash when the real estate bubble popped.

There are tons of interesting facts, and a few shocks, to be had in this first episode and I look forward to watching episode two, which promises to turn the camera away from the money men to the fallout: unemployment, homelessness and the global financial tsunami that hit the world in September of 2008.

This is not a documentary that I would watch with young children. There is a lot of advanced financial vocabulary and the story unfolds at a rapid pace. However, I would feel very comfortable watching this with a high school student but I suggest recording it so that you can pause and explain at any time.

Note that Canada is not really a player in this story with one exception. Jim Flaherty (our Finance Minister) is interviewed briefly about a panicky phone call he received from Hank Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary under George Bush, in 2006. Paulson, apparently, was worried about the real estate boom and sub-prime mortgages (costly loans made to people with very poor credit).

Though we Canadians, are thankfully, not part of this story, I highly recommend that you check your CBC listings, watch a rerun of this episode and tune in for episode two.

Copyright 2010. Laura Thomas. All Rights Reserved.

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