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Down and Out in America (1986)

Unrated  |   |  Documentary
6.8
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Three sectors of American society hit by recession in the mid-1980s: heartland farms, factory workers out of a job, and the new homeless. In Minnesota, 250 family farms are being repossesed... See full summary »

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 1 win. See more awards »
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Cast

Credited cast:
...
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jeff Farmer ...
Himself - AFL-CIO, MN
Bob Hanson ...
Himself - Farmer, MN
Robert Hayes ...
Himself - National Director, Coalition for the Homeless
Ted Hayes ...
Himself
Ann Kanten ...
Herself - Asst. Commissioner of Agriculture, MN
Bob Killeen ...
Himself - UAW, MN
Jim Langman ...
Himself
Nancy Minte ...
Herself - Attorney, Inner City Law Center, LA
Tom Styron ...
Himself - Volunteer, Coalition for the Homeless
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Storyline

Three sectors of American society hit by recession in the mid-1980s: heartland farms, factory workers out of a job, and the new homeless. In Minnesota, 250 family farms are being repossesed each week; men and women talk about their farms, the nature of their bank loans, the onslaught of corporate farming, and their sorrow and despair. In cities where 3,500 jobs per day go overseas, unemployed workers contemplate their options. The newly homeless talk about the jobs they've lost, "Justice Ville" in Los Angeles (bulldozed by court order), and squatting in New York's abandoned buildings. A family living in a welfare hotel tells their story. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Documentary

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Unrated
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Produced by HBO, this was the first cable program to win an Academy Award. See more »

Connections

Featured in Wisdom (1986) See more »

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User Reviews

 
What We Take for Granted Might Not Be Here for Our Children.
29 April 2011 | by (Cincinnati, OH, United States) – See all my reviews

Lee Grant---yes, the goofy shoplifter in Detective Story; yes, Warren Beatty's wealthy lover in Shampoo; yes, the one who won the Oscar for it---also won an Oscar (actually it was a tie, suspiciously) for directing this unflinching, incredibly succinct documentary which critiques Reaganomics by showing poverty in the United States infecting three subdivisions of American society stricken by depression in the mid-1980s: heartland farms, factory workers made redundant, and the recently homeless. Hundreds of family farms were being reclaimed every week, and these people speak of their farms, the quality of their bank loans, the blitz of corporate farming---which still continue to make family farms, not to mention healthy food and humanity toward the animals, increasingly difficult to sustain---and their grief and hopelessness. In cities where thousands of jobs per day go abroad, laid-off workers consider their alternatives. The freshly destitute describe the jobs of which they've suffered the loss, JusticeVille in Los Angeles, soon leveled by court order, and sitting on their heels in New York's deserted buildings. A family living in a welfare hotel relates their story.

In a time when over three thousand jobs a day were being shipped overseas, the unemployment rate averaged higher under Reagan than under Nixon, Ford or Carter, at the same time as the average productivity growth decelerated more under Reagan than those same three. What's more, real wages dropped harshly throughout the Reagan Presidency. Perhaps at the heart of this film's subjects and quite possibly the impetus for it, the tax reform would supposedly have decreased or done away with tax deductions but this legislation expanded the minimum tax from a law for untaxed rich investors to one redeployed to middle class Americans who had children, owned a home, or lived in high tax states. They were the ones on whom the most adverse effect was made by diminishing their deductions and in effect raising their taxes. In the meantime, the highest income earners were in proportion less impinged on, in this manner moving the tax burden away from the richest 0.5% to poorer Americans. Not even a few years ago, the minimum tax was stressed to be the sole most crucial setback in the tax code.

Thirty years after being blacklisted for refusing to testify against her husband, Grant took matters into her own hands with this Oscar-winning example of unfortunate Americans and the social dynamics that shared in their poverty. During an hour of varied footage, narrated over by Grant, Down and Out in America looks at a cluster of farmers demonstrating their disapproval upon being foreclosed on by the bank, a grassroots homeless alliance obstructed by stingy, acquisitive property owners, and a family of six make shifting a home in a filthy welfare hotel after being bereaved of their home in a fire. Grant does not pull overt associations between the oppressed, exploited Americans. In place of that, she allows the shared torment they make known to work as an overarching criticism of a wealthy society that has made an exception to the requirements of its most defenseless voters.


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