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Indebted Ever After
The film generally skirts specific solutions -- it does not recommend one form of Social Security reform over another -- but suggests broad entitlement overhaul, tough budget controls, conservation of energy and, at the no-duh level, not buying things you can't afford. In the interview, Walker said that tax deductions and exemptions will have to be reduced and a national consumption tax should be considered.
"It's inevitable there will be some tax increases on fat cats like myself," Peterson said in an interview. "But any idea you're going to solve most of this problem with taxes is not realistic."
Not everyone agrees that the United States is headed off a credit cliff.
There's Arthur Laffer, for instance, author of the famous Laffer Curve, which says that if taxes rise too high, people lose incentive to work. Laffer argues that as long as the debt level stays where it is, it can be financed down over time, like a homeowner with a mortgage.
"Arthur Laffer said to me, 'Addison, I'm not a debt guy,' " said Addison Wiggin, executive producer of the film and editorial director at Baltimore's Agora Financial, a research firm and publisher of investment advice.
"But that doesn't take into account everything that's coming down the pike," said Wiggin, co-author of the 2005 book, "Empire of Debt."
Wiggin got the idea for turning his book into a movie while snowbound in a Vermont condo for two days in 2005. He watched "Commanding Heights," a six-hour documentary on the history of the global economy. Three times.
To finance the film, Agora set up Agora Entertainment, whose initial budget was $500,000 raised from investors, a figure Wiggin said was "exceeded by a long shot."
Wiggin knew of Walker's dire warnings and made him the first interview for the movie. He quickly became its star.
As the film began production, it laid out a number of dire economic events, such as the mortgage meltdown and credit crisis, that were predicted in Wiggin's 2005 book. But by 2007, the book's prophesies began coming true, forcing a panicked re-editing of the film in September with the goal of getting the film into the Sundance film festival in January.
Re-editing is expensive and by November, Wiggin's investors pulled out. Agora ended up financing the project. "People were saying, 'This is Addison's sinkhole here,' " he said. No one found it funny that he was deficit-financing a movie that tells people not to buy things they can't afford.
But the film made it to Sundance and got a standing ovation, Wiggin said.
Peterson's foundation, with Walker at the helm, had promised to pay for the movie's distribution. But they liked it so much, they bought it from Agora for $2.5 million.
The film will debut in 400 theaters around the country on Aug. 21, followed by a live video town hall meeting from Omaha, featuring Walker, Peterson and Buffett. The next day, the film opens in 10 cities, including Washington.