FORECLOSURE DIARIES It was the best of times… for some. It was the worst of times… for many.
FORECLOSURE DIARIES is a stylized documentary examination of the collateral damage wrought by what’s now being called the “Great Recession.” Part investigation and part personal journey, the film chronicles how Wall Street’s penchant for financial engineering has created a foreclosure crisis of unprecedented proportions. Focusing a lens on the personal experiences of several individuals the narrative provides a compelling look at the emotional price paid by homeowners who refuse to allow the banks and their cronies in the servicing industry to simply robosign their homes away into what’s now called the “shadow inventory” of foreclosed and unoccupied homes.
Much like Pacific Street’s 1971 classic documentary, Red Squad, where the filmmakers took on the forces of the FBI and the NYPD’s Surveillance Unit, FORECLOSURE DIARIES provides a similar backdrop for the filmmakers to confront the bankers, default servicers, REO (Real Estate Owned) managers and assorted attorneys working for foreclosure mills around the country.
FEATURED PARTICIPANTS with YouTube Video links
Benjamin R Barber Senior Fellow, DEMOS
Anthony Brancatelli Cleveland City Councilman
& Gus Chan Photographer, Cleveland Plain Dealer View YouTube Video
April Charney Jacksonville Legal Aid Lawyer
Professor Emanuel Derman Columbia University
Professor Kathleen Engel Suffolk University Law School
But FORECLOSURE DIARIES is not an overview film. The blogging, the political pronouncements and endless editorializing from afar have still not taken a plunge into the real heart of darkness: the struggle between mortgage servicers and families facing eviction. Mortgage servicers represent banks, lenders and investors in their dealings with homeowners – collecting monthly payments, levying fines and penalties – and, in the end, initiate foreclosures. In the cruel, ironic logic of the financial system, mortgage servicers often make more money by foreclosing on a loan than in restructuring one. This simple fact has been largely overlooked in mainstream media coverage of the crisis; certainly government efforts like Treasury’s “HAMP” (Home Affordable Mortgage Program) originally designed to help families “save” their homes have proved to be dismal failures.
In 2009, filmmaker Joel Sucher started a closed FACEBOOK group, FORECLOSURE DIARIES in an attempt to bring together other homeowners impacted by this Houston- based company. Despite pronouncements in front of Congress by Litton CEO, Larry Litton Jr., that Litton “works with homeowners in default,” the company has had a checkered history. Continually given an unsatisfactory rating by Houston’s Better Business Bureau, Litton voluntarily withdrew from the BBB to avoid having to respond to consumer complaints. Company practices are fodder for a litany of criticisms – from fraud to unwarranted foreclosures – and have been subjects of numerous class action lawsuits. Press scrutiny has picked up, with mention of Litton in news articles appearing in the New York Times, Crains, and the Financial Times of London, among others. In December, 2007, without much fanfare, Litton was acquired as a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street Giant, Goldman Sachs.
FORECLOSURE DIARIES is a successor title for the documentary, TALE OF TWO STREETS, which first went into production early in 2007, months ahead of the catastrophic financial meltdown. With a sharper focus, this current incarnation casts a specific lens on Litton and its relationship with homeowners. In a sense this story provides the microcosm that reveals a much broader problem; the use of servicers by the banking system.
Pacific Street’s cameras have followed several stories. There’s the case of a middle- class family, the Schmidts, evicted from their Maryville, Tennessee, home in May 2007 by Litton Loan Servicing. Pacific Street’s filming includes graphic footage of the police forcibly “removing” family members. Without any financial resources they continue their legal fight, pro-se. And, near Cleveland, Ohio, (an epicenter of the foreclosure crisis), there’s a blue-collar mother, Ann Holden, whose daughter, Kori, wrote a compelling letter, addressed to the judge overseeing the family’s Litton-initiated foreclosure. Her on-camera reading captures the emotional trauma of being forced from their home. However, in Erin Brockovich style, Ann went on to co-found MSFraud.Org, a forum devoted to publicizing the most egregious abuses of servicers at a time when few knew anything about this industry.
In addition to creating the Facebook site, the filmmakers have been working together with other on-line communities that provide grass roots support for families fighting to stay in their homes. Non-profit consumer groups like the National Consumer Law Center, the National Association of Consumer Advocates and the Center for Responsible Lending have also provided invaluable resources (and certainly are part of this story).
Pacific Street has videotaped commentary from those who’ve covered this emerging story from the get-go: from Gretchen Morgenson at the New York Times to Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone Magazine. Pacific Street’s cameras have traveled to the ravaged streets of inner-city Cleveland, the rural outskirts of Knoxville, and the comfortable bedroom communities outside of Philadelphia to document the seemingly class-blind “take no prisoners” impact of foreclosure.
FORECLOSURE DIARIES focuses on the relationship between homeowners, the mortgage servicing industry and Wall Street, using the experiences of families who have been evicted or who are currently facing foreclosure. But it is important to emphasize that the film will show how people, around the country, are refusing to become victims; they are organizing, and taking activist roles in pursuing justice for themselves and their families.