Laffey documentary a toolbox for ‘Fixing America’

Posted 3/7/12

Just across the street from his former office as Mayor of Cranston, Steve Laffey returned to his hometown Friday and unveiled his roadmap for reengaging, reenergizing and fixing America.

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Laffey documentary a toolbox for ‘Fixing America’


Just across the street from his former office as Mayor of Cranston, Steve Laffey returned to his hometown Friday and unveiled his roadmap for reengaging, reenergizing and fixing America.

For Laffey, the Park Theatre was a fitting location for the Rhode Island premiere of his first foray into filmmaking, a documentary called “Fixing America.” He remembers looking out of City Hall at a vacant, crumbling theater, and advocating for its revival. Now, it’s back to its former glory, and so is Laffey’s taste for politics.

“I really wanted to come back to my hometown and show it to people in Rhode Island,” he said. “I think it’s a very important movie. If we don’t have a strong, vibrant country we can’t help people achieve the American dream.”

Several hundred people attended the premiere of the film, which follows Laffey on a cross-country trek to hear from Americans about what they consider the problems facing the country, as well as the solutions. The film is broken into separate issues, from the nation’s complex tax code to global commerce. These themes are tackled both by regular people and experts on the subject, including MSNBC pundit Dylan Ratigan and professors from Boston University, Northeastern University and Salve Regina to name a few.

Mixed in are facts and figures that drive Laffey’s point home, starting with the $14 trillion national debt.

Solutions to national debt suggested by participants, most of whom were approached by Laffey on the streets where they live without warning, include a simplified tax code, balancing the budget and eliminating fiscal gaps. Steve Forbes suggests cutting the tax code, which is made up of more than nine million words, down to a single sheet of paper – a flat tax.

Energy independence is another priority for many Americans. The film showed a clip from former President Jimmy Carter from 1979, in which the late president discussed the dangers of depending on foreign oil. More than three decades later, the problems are the same, pointed out Frank Rulli, a manager of a grocery store in Ohio.

The technology is there to be energy efficient, agreed Ratigan; it is just going to take the political will to implement it.

Global commerce took up a significant portion of the film. In red text flashing across the big screen, Laffey detailed how China charges a 25 percent import tax, and yet the United States charges just 2.5 percent.

“There’s no reciprocity,” Ratigan said.

In this portion of the documentary, Americans discussed the death of American industrialism, the outsourcing of much-needed jobs and the bold steps that are needed on the part of politicians and consumers to bring work back to the United States. Many consumers advocated for buying local.

While politicians took a great deal of heat in the film, a common sentiment from participants is that it is not a Democrat problem or a Republican problem. Politics, they said, was never meant to be a career, and only when politicians begin answering to their constituents and not donors or special interests will the country get back on track.

In Moscow, Tennessee, a woman named Viola said it would take collaboration to rebuild the nation.

“The striking thing about some of the people, and particularly Viola, being a black woman in the Deep South, probably nobody had ever asked her very seriously, ‘what do you think about the world?’ She was so touched that someone would ask,” Laffey said. “I thought Viola showed the genius of the American people. She knows that the country is failing, and everybody knows it.”

That frustration resonated with cinematographer Jeff Hoffman.

“What stood out is that most of America, between the Hudson River and Los Angeles, felt helpless. They’re working their asses off and nobody’s listening to them,” he said.

The desperation that some of the interview subjects are feeling, he added, is not contrived. The crew set out each day not knowing what people would have to say, or how it could impact the course of the film.

“You’re not working from a script; you’re making it up as you go,” he said.

Hoffman actually turned the project down three times before his wife, Beth Gudri-Hoffman, convinced him that Laffey’s passion and his views were in line with her husband. The pair was on the phone one night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., and it turned out that Gudri-Hoffman was right.

“It’s rare that you get two people together like that,” she said.

Looking back on the experience on Friday, as the house lights dimmed, Hoffman said he was glad he listened to his wife.

“I have to work with passionate people. We’re not doing this for the money,” he said.

Laffey said he interviewed well over 100 people during the course of shooting, and spent more than an hour with each of them, but fewer than 20 could be featured. Choosing the quotes and ideas to feature was an “unbelievable challenge,” he said.

“I talked to hundreds of people and no one said, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about’,” he said, adding, “There’s a story behind every one of these people.”

In a phone interview Monday, when Laffey had returned to his ranch in Colorado, he said he was humbled and excited by the response to “Fixing America,” and he hopes that the message resonates with viewers. He plans to shop it around to television stations, including the Documentary Channel, and a DVD of the documentary is currently available on Amazon and through his website.

After seeing it on the big screen, and seeing people react to it, Laffey said the film is “what it was meant to be,” and is ultimately about reengaging people in the political process. He hopes that when people see that they are not alone, and that so many of their neighbors have valuable solutions to America’s problems, they will be inspired to have their own voices heard.

In the final credits, a quote from Thomas Jefferson summarized Laffey’s goal in making a documentary: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

For more information, or to purchase a DVD of “Fixing America,” visit or search for the title on


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