Debt smart | Arts + Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Debt smart

A credit-conscious film series reinforces your New Year’s resolutions and addresses a growing problem.

Debt smart
© Reprinted by permission of New Yorker Films
Working just to get to the next day in Life and Debt.

Debt: Our Common Problem
Monday, January 12-Monday, February 16
Halifax Central Library

English poet and priest George Herbert recorded the aphorism, "speake not of my debts, unleffe you meane to pay them" in a publication from 1640. Apparently, it was as unacceptable to gab about your bff's Visa bill in the 17th century as it is today. Talking about debt is taboo. It's rude to mention another person's dues and tactless to bring up your own. A Halifax professor aims to subvert the social proscription on debt with a prescription of his own.

Max Haiven, an assistant professor at NSCAD, is the lead organizer of a documentary film series called Debt: Our Common Problem. The series is a co-presentation of Radical Imagination, Cinema Politica and Halifax Public Libraries. The films will be free to the public and will be among the first screenings at Paul O'Regan Hall in the brand-spanking-new Halifax Central Library. On select Monday evenings (at 7pm) in January and February, attendees will be treated to documentaries that explore the concept of debt in entertaining and enlightening ways.

On January 12 the series opens with a double bill of short films. Debt Trap (2008) is a 44-minute examination of how and why the average Canadian is struggling with debt. In the Red (2014) is a 20-minute profile that explores the activities of a group of American anti-debt activists.

Life and Debt (2001) plays on January 26 and offers a feature-length vision of Jamaica that is beautiful and terrible. Poet Jamaica Kincaid wrote and voiced the narration for this exploration of how globalization has negatively affected a would-be island paradise.

February 9 brings Payback (2011) to the big screen. This feature-length adaptation of Margaret Atwood's book by the same name explores the concept of debt as a metaphor. Disparate images, fascinating talking-heads and affecting stories expose sociocultural manifestations of debt that can't be paid with money.

Living Without Money (2011) plays on February 16 and offers a 52-minute portrait of Heidemarie Schwermer, a German grandmother who lives without a single deutsche mark in her pocket and pays her way with favours.

Far from living without money, most of us live in hock. Student loans, credit cards, mortgages and payday loans ensure the omnipresence of debt. "Those of us who are fortunate enough not to be in a lot of debt," says Haiven, "chances are that our savings or our investments are also part of the debt economy in one way or another."

Haiven hopes this film series will interrupt the silence around an issue that affects almost everyone. "It is this incredible common problem that most people, especially most people my age, are experiencing," says Haiven, "but there's so much shame and guilt around this that people don't want to discuss it."

Haiven doesn't mind getting deep into debt–he'll introduce each of the screenings and moderate a conversation afterwards. "I think," he says, "that there's a great merit just to opening up the discussion and allowing people to feel they're not alone."

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