Artists' Television Access

ATA @ SFPL: Banks and the Poor (screening at Noe Valley Library)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016, 6:30 pm, FREE

Artists’ Television Access (ATA) teams up with SFPL to mine the treasures in the Library’s 16mm film archive. Join us for a quarterly screening series of fantastic movies.

Banks and the Poor (Morton Silverstein, 1970, 16mm)

Whether looking at our current economic landscape, or that depicted in this 46-year old muckraking documentary, it should come as no surprise that lending institutions have provided at best negligible support to marginalized communities and individuals seeking to pull themselves out of poverty. But the brazenness of a comment by Chase Manhattan’s David Rockefeller, “the banking industry has paid special attention to the needs of the disadvantaged,” still provides a shock today. Especially in the context of a film that shows, through interviews with ordinary citizens and with activists, through images of slums and shady, alternative lending sources, and through hidden-camera infiltration of the banks themselves, the pervasive race and class discrimination rampant in that industry. Opening with a lively clip from the Depression-era Hollywood musical “Gold Diggers of 1933” begs the question: who’s the real gold digger: someone trying to ethically improve his or her lot in society, or the banker who lends capital to fancy off-shore casinos and to “predatory slum speculators” rather than to the people who need it most?

Banks and the Poor remains relevant after nearly half a century not only because it demonstrates structural inequities we still recognize in our modern-day financial systems, but also because its original public television airing created a furor of controversy that has profoundly affected our media landscape to this day. By ending his film with a long list of senators and congressmen holding leadership positions in banks and on their boards simultaneous with their political positions –a clear conflict of interest– director Morton Silverstein infuriated the Nixon Admninistration, which used Banks and the Poor as a pretext to prioritize the de-funding of the recently-created Public Broadcasting System, and providing a model for future attacks on publicly-funded media that continue today. Currently only about 15% of PBS funding is sourced from the government- the rest coming from donations from individuals and, increasingly, from corporate sponsorships.

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