10/18/2009 04:05 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

American Casino: Betting Against the House

The documentary American Casino, made by Leslie and Andrew Cockburn, follows plain folk with subprime-mortgaged homes as their properties become bundled derivatives on computer spreadsheets and move through countless reratings into default. The film, gearing up for a feature-length documentary Academy Award nomination, began it's national run Sunday at New York City's Symphony Space.

American Casino suggests that the only recourse for the apparently admirable lower and lower-middle class Baltimore teachers, social workers, and ministers featured in the film is judicial (i.e. lawsuits against banks and managers linked to risky sub-prime mortgages). It identifies new points along the credit default swap path where unregulated lenders may be legally vulnerable. In the Cockburns' view, not only were mortgage buyers unwittingly gambling, they were betting against the house.

For viewers stymied by written explanations of the mortgage meltdown, American Casino goes beyond filling the comprehension gap. It leaves an indelible image of the American middle and lower class as a cash crop grown to satisfy Wall Street's insatiable appetites.

The documentary bears the earmarks of director Leslie Cockburn's 60 Minutes and Frontline pedigree: intriguing and informative without cheap tricks. After a preview at Yale University's Whitney Humanities Center, I asked Ms. Cockburn what she thought of the recent positive signs in the stock market. "Biggest sucker rally in history," she replied apologetically. "I hope I'm wrong."

American Casino national playdates:
New York City, Oct. 18, 25, Nov. 1, Symphony Space, 4pm & 8pm
Washington DC, Oct. 30 - Nov. 5 AFI Silver
Providence, RI, Oct. 16-22, Cable Car Cinema
Chicago, IL, Oct. 23rd, 5:00 pm, University of Chicago Law School, 1111 East 60th St.
Dallas, TX, Nov, 5-8, Dallas Video Festival
Tucson, AZ, Nov. 25, Loft Cinema
Cleveland, Ohio, Dec. 18 & 20, Cleveland Cinematheque
Pleasantville, NY, Oct. 22, Global Watch Film Series, Jacob Burns Film Center
Columbus, OH, Nov. 7, Wexner Center for the Arts