November 14th, 2022
MOVIE: LOAN WOLVES
DIRECTED BY: BLAKE ZEFF
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Student loan debt is a hot topic right now that, surprisingly, hasn’t been fully addressed in a documentary until now. Blake Zeff’s new film Loan Wolves attempts to tackle the roots and solutions to this problem which has, according to the film, left the U.S. with almost two trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt. It’s a stunning number but one that is not all that shocking given how many people are facing the daunting task of repaying these often very sizeable loans. Zeff interviews many such former students who are now working as teachers, OBGYN’s, sex workers, and other professions with fairly low-paying salaries that offer little hope of ever allowing them to really pay off what they owe.
Zeff presents a basic hypothesis here which is that greed and politics created this crisis. As a country, we’ve promised an American Dream whereby if we work hard enough we will get to have the kind of life we want. Going to college was always one of the routes to a great, financially sound future. But with higher education costs continuing to rise, the cost of attending is mostly out of reach without some sort of assistance.
Zeff than isolates a major moment in our history when President Bill Clinton signed the Higher Education Bill in 1998. Within that bill was a caveat that said Americans with student loan debt were not allowed to file for bankruptcy to wipe out what they still owed. This has presented a major issue as many students, including the director’s wife, find themselves with upwards of $200,000 in loan debt. Zeff then attempts to find the source of these lines in the bill with a goal of getting the regulation changed.
It is important to note that this film is being distributed by MSNBC, or today’s left leaning political network. So, we know where Zeff’s stance on this matter lies. In all fairness, he does include several clips from the right leaning political network, Fox News, which is filled with commentators expressing the sentiment, “why shouldn’t people have to pay back their loans?” There are a few though that even question why we can wipe out debts of all other kinds but not student loans. As such, the film definitely leans in the direction of getting the loans cleared. There isn’t a lot of discussion here about finding other ways to get people to pay off their debts. Rather Zeff puts the blame on our government for encouraging people to take out exorbitant loans to land the American Dream. Whether you agree or not, Zeff clearly has taken a stance here. (Did anyone ever say documentaries must give equal time to both sides of an issue?)
Ultimately, Zeff is an enjoyable investigative journalist who presents all of his facts and evidence with a light tone. He’s humorous in his voice over delivery and some of his one on one interviews with key political leaders. Editing is fast paced and never dull. Even the music within the film is whimsical throughout much of Zeff’s quest. Dare I say that Zeff was clearly schooled in the Michael Moore (Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11) approach to documentary filmmaking? He’s pushy but a bit lovable. He appeals to people who likely already buy into his perspective with an entertaining style, and I don’t begrudge him that. This is a very informative film that is just trying to get to the heart of the matter of its subject. He makes some very convincing arguments including the idea that canceling these debts can actually help the economy by allowing people to put those dollars to better use.
It’s also interesting to note that much of what is debated in Loan Wolves has still not been resolved. It’s not like this film is being released after the fact. More so, there is a very strong non-finalized reality here that suggests the film might end differently a year from now. Still, it is an extremely eye-opening and an interesting reflection on a pretty major crisis affecting all of us in one way or another.
LOAN WOLVES IS PLAYING AS PART OF THE DOC NYC FILM FESTIVAL IT WILL BE AVAILABLE TO BE STREAMED VIA THE FEST’S WEBSITE AT DOCNYC.NET THROUGH NOVEMBER 27TH. ON DECEMBER 11TH IT WILL PREMIERE ON MSNBC.
3 1/2 STARS
Written by: Dan Pal