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Fixing the Future

PBS // 2010 // 56 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bryan Byun (Retired) // March 12th, 2011

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All Rise...

Never mind the future, Judge Bryan Byun can't even fix his leaky plumbing.

The Charge

In a one-hour PBS special, host David Brancaccio visits communities across America using innovative approaches to create jobs and build prosperity in our new economy.

The Case

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last few years (or, I suppose, especially if you've been living under a rock for the last few years), you're painfully aware that the United States is suffering one hell of an economic bad hair day. With the economy in the toilet and the majority of the nation's wealth being owned by five old monocle-wearing white guys chillaxing in swimming pools filled with gold coins, America is in desperate need of some fresh solutions.

David Brancaccio, longtime host of NPR's business show Marketplace and a journalist particularly interested in the interconnection between the business world and social issues, set out on a road trip, visiting communities across the country where people are using innovative approaches to creating jobs and revitalize their economies. The resulting one-hour program was aired on PBS as part of its investigative NOW series.

The subject of job creation and economic reform may sound about as interesting as a business school textbook, but Fixing the Future is a lively and unexpectedly engaging look at some of the things ordinary Americans are doing to get through these hard times and find opportunities to build a future that avoids the mistakes of the past. Brancaccio focuses on small-scale, experimental grassroots efforts that benefit local businesses and create jobs, ideally with minimal environmental impact.

In Portland, Maine, for instance, Brancaccio encounters the Portland Hour Exchange, a "time bank" in which members swap services, "depositing" work-hours by offering everything from home repair work to medical and legal services, and "withdrawing" services that they need. Not only does this program, which has apparently been quite successful, offer a cashless way for people to obtain services they lack the expertise to do themselves or can't afford to pay for, but it has re-introduced a sense of community in Portland that is increasingly scarce in the post-industrial age.

In Bellingham, Washington, we encounter Sustainable Connections, a network of local businesses that have banded together to promote local, sustainable economic activity. And in Austin, Texas, we meet Yo Mama Catering, a woman-operated cooperative that's part of a national movement to build and train similar small, cooperative businesses.

Intercut with the travelogue are interview segments with economists David Korten, a critic of corporate globalization, and Jane D'Arista, a prominent authority on the financial markets, as well as Matthew Bishop, U.S. editor of The Economist. These experts offer a more macro-level perspective on the state of the economy, and their own ideas on how to reform, not just the way America does business, but the way we measure our economic progress.

Perhaps in acknowledgement of the dryness of these topics, Fixing the Future packages these interviews in a sometimes distractingly flashy style, with lively computer text acting as "bullet points" underlining key ideas, and a very hip filming approach that involves pulling the cameras back from its subjects to reveal most of the set. I'm not sure the subject matter warrants such a frenetic style, but it is a change of pace from the usual talking-head interviews invariably taped in university faculty offices.

Fixing the Future looks and sounds pretty good, with a clean, functional stereo audio track and digital video that looks as sharp and vibrant in the studio as on location. The DVD package is bare-bones, which is a shame since this is a program that could have benefited from additional interview material and supplemental information. The PBS website for the program, however, is highly recommended for anyone inspired to learn more about Brancaccio's journey (his personal diary of the trip is available on the site) or curious to know what kinds of initiatives are going on in their own communities.

Given the topic of America's financial ruin at the hands of Wall Street fat cats, I came to Fixing the Future expecting to be outraged, or at least a little depressed at the enormity of the challenges the country faces. But the program actually left me feeling optimistic about our chances, pleasantly surprised by people's resourcefulness and creativity, and very much on board with the Big Idea of the piece, that it's local organizing, local business, and ground-level action that can make a real difference for people. This focus on people-powered, entrepreneurial innovation within communities is a compelling notion, one that bridges all political and social divisions. For those of us who won't be able to afford passage on the giant space ark that'll transport the world's billionaires off this ravaged planet, Fixing the Future is a slim, but much-needed, ray of hope.

The Verdict

The court finds Fixing the Future not guilty, in exchange for having someone re-caulk my shower.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 56 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• Official Site
• IMDb

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