Sept. 19, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

A ‘Cold Shower’ Film About Our National Debt

Fiscal responsibility might not seem like a sexy enough topic to compete with box office blockbusters on the big screen.

Just ask the Concord Coalition’s Robert Bixby, who has been touring the nation for three years sounding off on the fiscal challenges facing the country. News about the deficit, he says, is more fittingly described as a “cold shower” than a hot item.

“We come after the sexy message, to cool people off,” he explains in “I.O.U.S.A.,” a new documentary to be released nationwide in August.

But as politicians and deficit hawks decry the disastrous state of the nation’s finances, “I.O.U.S.A.” takes a stab at presenting an issue in a package that is palatable to the general public.

The numbers are mind-boggling — the current national debt of about $9 trillion skyrockets to about $53 trillion when you include future liabilities for entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare — and the historical and political factors weighing into the complex equation.

But “I.O.U.S.A.” weaves together the personal experiences of former Comptroller General David Walker and Bixby as they traverse the country on their “Fiscal Wake-up Tour,” as well as number-crunching graphics and interviews with economists, lawmakers and former presidential appointees to present the issue in layman’s terms.

Specifically, it draws upon a speech Walker has been giving that identifies four deficits that threaten the country’s future — the federal budget deficit, the savings deficit, the trade deficit and a deficit of strong leadership.

Breaking down an issue as complicated as the deficit into an easy-to-understand and entertaining film isn’t a new concept for the film’s director, Patrick Creadon, whose 2006 documentary, “Wordplay,” received rave reviews for making crossword puzzles cool.

“Our friends think we’re completely insane because we keep picking these topics that can’t possibly be an interesting film,” he said. “But that’s the fun of it.”

Creadon knew the film needed a human touch to attract a wide audience, and Bixby and Walker, whom he calls “the Abbott and Costello of fiscal responsibility,” shine in the role. It was a pleasant surprise for Creadon, who initially approached them for interviews because of they were also mentioned in the book “Empire of Debt” by Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin, which was the impetus for the film.

“Right away, we realized that these were our stars,” Creadon said. “You can’t possibly tell the story A to Z in 90 minutes, but we think the film is a conversation-starter. It gets the ball rolling.”

Walker, who left the Government Accountability Office in March to head former Secretary of Commerce Peter G. Peterson’s namesake foundation focused on fiscal issues, became both the narrator and a strong backer of the film.

After the film failed to pick up a distributor at the Sundance Film Festival, the foundation invested about $2 million in acquiring the film and its distribution rights. It is now arranging a nationwide town-hall-style premiere of the final cut, followed by release in more than a dozen cities and screenings at the film festivals for the Democratic and Republican national conventions.

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