12 Compelling Documentaries About the Power of Money

Examining the Financial Crisis and Other Economic Issues

Money drives the world and filmmakers are very good at exposing this truth. We can all find valuable insights from a few documentaries that explore the power of money in modern life.

Whether it's the lessons learned from the 2008 economic crisis or how corporations control the things we need to live, these films raise many questions. How did America and Americans get so deeply in debt? How is the global economy intertwined? Why is poverty still prevalent when we're supposed to be rich?

These are all good questions that today's best filmmakers attempt to answer. While the crisis may be over, we can still learn from the mistakes of the past. The films suggest that there are ways in which each of us, as well as the nation, can improve the situation by changing spending patterns and habits. 

Chasing Madoff

One of the biggest stories of the financial crisis was the unraveling of Bernie Madoff's enormous Ponzi scheme. The film, "Chasing Madoff," offers an insightful view about investigator Harry Markopolos' repeated efforts to expose the $65 billion fraud.

It took decades of work to reveal the truth and director Jeff Prosserman does a great job of bringing the story to life in a compelling way. This is not a financial documentary that will bore you. Even if you think you know the whole narrative, there's always more to the story.

Unraveled

Marc Drier in 'Unraveled'. Go Digital Media Group

It's not as famous as Madoff's, but the case of Marc Dreier certainly involved huge sums of capital and caused tremendous economic upheaval. His fraud scheme amounted to over $700 million taken from hedge funds.

Dreier's arrest occurred just days before Madoff's scheme went public, but filmmaker Marc Simon decided to watch the smaller case anyway. He followed Dreier while he was under house arrest and awaited the judgment that could sentence him to jail for the rest of his life.

The result is a fascinating profile of Dreier and a serious consideration of what is an appropriate punishment for a serious economic crime.

Rafea Solar Mama at Barefoot College. Noujaim Films

Commissioned by the non-profit Steps International and airing on PBS' Global Voices, this is an excellent series of eight one-hour documentaries.

It tells personal stories that focus public awareness on the causes and possible solutions for worldwide poverty. These include circumstances of intolerable economic inequality and problems inherent to the current system of economic aid and trade. More »

Filmmaker Michael Moore's unique take on the financial crisis is one to ponder. In it, he uses his unrelenting style to expose the ways in which Wall Street moguls and the denizens of Capitol Hill caused the economic crisis.

During the film, he visits various economic institutions in an attempt to recover the money lost by Americans. The film was released in 2009, just after the worst hits to the economy, so the footage is raw and in the moment, making it a timeless documentary.

Inside Job

Filmmaker and journalist Charles Ferguson offers a comprehensive and well-researched analysis of the global financial crisis. Of all the documentaries on the topic, this one may very well alarm you.

The film focuses on specific events and presents the entire cast of characters—public servants, government officials, financial service companies, bank executives, and academincs—involved in creating the crisis. He also looks at the lasting effects this near global collapse had on the middle and working classes around the globe.

I.O.U.S.A.

Printing Money in I.O.U.S.A. Agora Entertainment

Patrick Creadon's eye-opening documentary uses easy-to-understand pie charts and graphs to illustrate the magnitude of America's debt addiction. The intent is to show its effect on our current and future economic situations.

Unlike some films on the subject, this is a fact-based, non-partisan look at the overall situation. It moves fast and looks at everything from entitlement programs to international trade. If you're wondering what the politicians mean by "our national debt," this will give you more answers than you probably expected.

Interviewing scholars and policy makers, filmmaker Phillipe Diaz presents a thoroughly researched treatise on poverty. When there is so much wealth in the world, why is that so many people remain impoverished?

Narrated by Martin Sheen, the film is an important primer for all who are trying to understand this phenomenon. It reaches beyond the U.S. economy and examines how it has played out in nations around the globe as well. 

Feeling pressured to provide the best for their children, NYC parents behave like sharks in a feeding frenzy when their kids become eligible for admission to top nursery schools.

These preschools are known as feeder schools for top primary schools, which lead to the top high schools and eventually Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and other Ivy League schools. It's a cutthroat process that is designed to shape the leaders of tomorrow.

As amazing as this pressure may seem to some of us, it is a fascinating story. Directed by Marc H. Simon and Matthew Makar, it is both entertaining and puzzling, a look into an elite world many don't know about.

Gashole

Filmmakers Scott Roberts and Jeremy Wagener's well-researched documentary investigates the history of gas prices in the U.S. 

The film demonstrates how oil companies have taken advantage of natural disasters to consistently raise prices at the gas pumps. It also examines how they may have prevented the advancement in gas-saving technologies and alternative fuels in cars.

The Pipe

The Pipe - At sea, fisherman Pat O'Donnell faces off with Shell's pipe-laying ship. Underground Film Warehouse Studios

Shell Oil acquires rights to a huge untapped cache of natural gas off the coast of County Mayo in Ireland. The plans are to move the gas via high pressure by pipe to an inland refinery.

The residents of the town of Rossport deem Shell's plan unacceptable. They argue that it would disrupt their way of life, endanger the environment, and prevent them from supporting themselves by fishing and farming.

The stage is set as the people of Rossport gear up to halt installation of the pipe and this compelling film tells the entire story.

Water Wars: When Drought, Flood and Greed Collide

Water Wars - Poster Art. Film For Thought/Cinema Libre

Filmmaker Jim Burrough's documentary presents a prescient look into the future of fresh water access and control. It crosses the world, examining how dams, water shortages, and natural disasters impact everyday life.

The question the film really brings up is whether the water crisis will lead to global conflict in the future. Could it be the cause of World War III like many people believe?

Food, Inc.

Food Inc. Poster Art. Magnolia Pictures

This is an alarming expose about food production and distribution in the United States. It is compelling, alarming, and may just change the way you eat.

Filmmaker Robert Kenner demonstrates how almost everything we eat is provided by Monsanto, Tyson and a few other huge multinational corporations. It also examines how nutritional quality and concerns are secondary to production cost and corporate profits.