ECONOMIC APOCALYPSE HOW? Director Ross Ashcroft talks about his film, Four Horsemen
Published: 15 March, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are bearing down on us – and we’re too busy watching trashy, sexed-up TV shows to get out of the way.
This is the kernel of a new documentary feature film written and directed by Belsize Park-based Ross Ashcroft.
It seeks to lift the lid on how the global economy really works – and despite biting off such a large and seemingly unwieldly topic, Ashcroft has made a very watchable critique of the economic Depression we find ourselves locked into, and warns of the seemingly unstoppable decline of Western economic supremacy, and with it civilisation.
Using interviews with 23 leading economists, philosophers, academics and bankers – including philosopher Professor Noam Chomsky, Financial Times assistant editor Gillian Tett, and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz – the film considers the state of the global economy, the environment, quality of life and the huge gaps in wealth between the richest and poorest.
It suggests why this may be and offers some ideas as to how we can reverse the seemingly chaotic decline of global wealth.
He identifies today’s Four Horsemen – the title of his film – as “a rapacious financial system, escalating organised violence, abject poverty for billions and the exhaustion of the world’s resources”.
He states that these four conditions gallop unchallenged because the “cognitive map” that has been placed within each of us by our schools, universities and the media does not encourage us to question accepted norms.
This is Ross Ashcroft’s first feature film, and it has taken more than three years to complete.
He says there were two steps on the road to making it in his pre-film-making life: the first was, surprisingly, his childhood ambition to be a farmer.
After spending three years at agricultural college, surrounded by young people who were planning to return to their family estates to manage them, he hoped to buy some land to farm organically himself.
“It was out of the question, due to the high prices,” he says. “I did not want to become a tenant farmer, working someone else’s land for pittance and it really got me interested in economics,” he recalls.
“I began to research the question of land ownership and the land monopoly. I became incredulous, outraged and very concerned.”
So his first ambition for a career had been scuppered. “I had to have a rethink,” he says. “I had always liked storytelling and been interested in film, so I thought it was an area I’d like to work in.”
Ross was aware that all of his favourite – and the most successful – British film directors, including Attenborough, Mendes and Boyle – had learnt their trade in the theatre, so he turned his attention to getting similar experience.
He worked as an assistant director at Liverpool’s Everyman Playhouse, and then the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre before moving on to West End productions.
The second moment of inspiration for the film occurred when the landlord of his Haverstock Hill flat asked him if he would like first refusal on the property as he was going to sell it.
The cost was astronomical.
“I spoke to a mortgage broker and they said, essentially, ‘put whatever wage you want on the forms. Say you earn whatever you want and I’ll fix you up the loan’.”
It was first-hand experience of the sub-prime mortgage scandal that helped cause the crash in America in 2008, and the “credit crunch”.
He says other similar political documentaries have often featured such elements as chasing bankers about the City, but he wanted a more measured attempt to consider why we seem to live in a world of skewed values when it comes to earning a living. “This sort of thing dates very quickly,” he says.
It meant instead of solely looking at the issues of the 2008 banking collapse and trying to unpick what happened in the immediate past to unravel reasons for it, Ross took a more holistic view: “I wanted to consider the bigger principles behind our economic system and going back to look at classical economics. This means, I hope, that the film will have relevance for longer.”
The film fulfils the same remit the mass-produced political pamphlets of the 1930s did in rousing public opinion.
Four Horsemen also joins a relatively new group of documentaries whose use film to bring political issues to a wider audience.
Environmental issues have been aired through Age of Stupid, Gasland, Garbage Dreams and Black Gold, while the economic system has been tackled by such features as Collapse and The Shock Doctrine.
“There has been a trend of overtly political documentaries and I sense what has been released in recent times is just the tip of an iceberg,” he says. “The UK and the West will not be returning to ‘business as usual’. We will not get back on track as we once were. Things will change dramatically and rapidly.”
He adds that these turbulent times coincide with the democratisation of film-making.
“With cheaper cameras and editing programmes, film-makers no longer need to get an organisation like the BBC to commission documentaries. You can get out there and tell the story cheaply.”
he says. “You can make a film that reaches millions of people very easily. “ While the message of doom is writ large, and it seems our politicians lack the vision and will to deal with it, Ross is clear where he’ll be as civilisation slips away.
He still has, he says, strong ambitions to eventually become a farmer.