What a frustrating watch! This should have been a documentary that I enjoyed immensely. It ticked so many boxes of my own personal interests; high finance, government conspiracy, global economics and an underdog story (of sorts). But such was the unfocused, wide-eyed nature of this film that I could barely enjoy a moment of it.
The Forecaster is the story of Martin Armstrong, an American economic advisor and predictor who was imprisoned for seven years in civil contempt of court for (according to the film, at least) not handing over an economic model using pi to predict market and geopolitical movement. Armstrong served a further five years after pleading guilty for conspiracy to commit fraud. His firm, Princeton Economics International was, at one time, advising on multi-trillion dollar contracts in the global markets and initially specialised in commodities – a natural extension of our protagonist’s teenage years spent passionately engaged in coin collecting.
The film opens with a trip to a fortune-teller reading tarot cards to Armstrong – my first red flag that this wasn’t going to be Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room quality. In turn we are presented with an army of Armstrong’s allies who share their experiences building the chronology and narrative of what happened to this presumed poor, beaten down man. But the constant shifting focus of the film becomes increasingly jarring.
I couldn’t help but think director/editor Marcus Vetter couldn’t decide on what to focus on. Should he have spent the 100 minutes of the movie on the human story of a man destroyed by a corrupt American justice system, or the tale of an international cabal of financiers manipulating Governments? Or explore the genius of a pi-inspired economic model which allegedly has predicted the rise and fall of whole economies with frightening accuracy and detail? Well, Vetter seems to have tried to cover all of this in under two hours of screentime. In doing so, he forgot to use any time to build the audience’s trust in the storyteller and its sources. There is a startling lack of evidence or material outside of Armstrong’s friends, family and lawyer giving accounts to the camera.
In terms of a story, what Armstrong went through is, at worst, a deeply intriguing sequence of events and at best a man fighting the darkest elements of international political and economic conspiracy. The real tragedy of this film is that it gives one the impression that the opportunity to tell this riveting story has been squandered and descends into a ranting, tin-foil hat exposé with very large claims and ideas being presented to you for a brief moment before moving onto the next bold assertion.
If you share my aforementioned interests of economics and conspiracy then I’d recommend you go see this film rather than not, however temper your expectations. Outside of that niche audience, I cannot recommend spending your time on this documentary.
The Forecaster is playing as part of the Documentary Edge Festival 2015. Auckland at Q Theatre on Wednesday May 27th, Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st. In Wellington at The Roxy Cinema on Sunday June 7, Tuesday 9th, Thursday 11th.