Foreclosure's Groujnd Zero: Florida
From the start, Ramin Bahrani knew he wanted to set his story in Florida -
Southern state where real estate boomed explosively, then crashed like nowhere
else. He began the
process of making 99 HOMES with an eye-opening journey to the panhandle. The
even now; in 2014 one in every 400 Florida homes was in foreclosure.
Still, Bahrani wasn't so much interested in the dry statistics as in the
extreme ways that real
people react to the high-pressure situation of losing one's home - and to the
equally extreme, if highly
profitable, venture of taking homes away.
"I started researching by reading books and articles about the financial
crisis, but I really like to
be on the ground, so I started spending time in Florida," Bahrani explains. "I
visited the foreclosure
courts, what they call the 'rocket dockets,' where they decide your fate in 60
seconds flat. I spent time
with real estate brokers; I spent time in the motels where families live after
they've been evicted and
have nowhere to go; I met hoodlums and con artists. And I learned all the
methods of cheating the
banks, the government and homeowners."
Bahrani also spent time with those who were cheated. These included Lynn
West Palm Beach fraud attorney who was shocked to find herself suddenly
foreclosed upon for no
apparent reason. Unwilling to just give in, Szymoniak set out on a quest to
expose the practice of
"robo-signing," a vast, scandalous conspiracy of falsified documents that
dropped thousands into the
horror of the foreclosure maze with no recourse. She became a symbol of a system
as un-policed as the
Wild West. "Lynn led a law suit to the tune of $95 million against the banks and
won," notes Bahrani.
(The government joined Szymoniak's case against Bank of America, J.P. Morgan
Chase & Co., Wells
Fargo and Citigroup and she received an $18 million whistleblower fee.)
In addition, the writer-director witnessed the harrowing reality of
saw first-hand the acute hazards of the process. "They are very frightening
events," he says of evictions.
"We've all heard statistics on the housing crisis, but unless you have gone
through it, you probably
haven't really seen what it's like for a family in the middle of it. I witnessed
that and it's emotional and
terrifying on both sides. It's terrifying for families and it's equally
terrifying for agents doing the
eviction because angry home owners will try to retaliate."
Another surreal realm Bahrani explored is that inside Florida's low-rent,
roadside motels that
line Highway 142, the road to Disney World, where evicted homeowners frequently
flee in search of a
roof over their heads. Within them, he says, you see it all. "These motels will
often be populated by
gangbangers and prostitutes on one side, and then in another section they'll
have migrant workers or
day laborers -- and then you have ordinary families with kids in school who have
been evicted from
their homes," he describes. "There are so many kids in these motels that the
school systems have to
send buses to them."
All of this became woven into the taut narrative of the film. Bahrani wrote
the film with Amir
Naderi, an accomplished international filmmaker in his own right whose films
include the Iranian
classic THE RUNNER and the U.S. drama VEGAS: BASED ON A TRUE STORY. Together
fleshed out a story Bahrani developed with his long-time collaborator Bahareh
Azimi (CHOP SHOP).
"Amir is someone that I've admired since I was a college student," Bahrani
comments. "I was
lucky to come to know him and to get mentorship from him on some of my previous
films. We started
talking about the idea for this film early on and he became a vital part of the
The script they created together was raw and stripped back, letting the
ticking-clock of the story
and the friction between the two main characters escalate without distractions.
Bahrani says his hope is
to use the unadorned suspense of 99 HOMES to bring people into this world where
greed and need are
still colliding in explosive ways, but without trying to shoehorn in simplistic
"It doesn't matter which side of the political, economic or social spectrum
you reside on, we all
can see is that something's wrong with the system," he comments. "Most of us
know someone who has
lost their home, almost lost their home or know someone who lives in fear of
losing their home. The
mix of that fear with nail-biting tension had the producers of 99 HOMES
exhilarated. Says Ashok
Amritraj of Hyde Park: "The film is a combination of an intense thriller with
the acting moments of an
inspiring drama. Ramin saw all of that going in and he brought a real vision for
Adds producing partner Kevin Turen: "At its heart, 99 HOMES is the story of a
man trying to
save his family. It starts out with that simple, basic drive -- then it
escalates into themes of seduction,
corruption and greed. Ramin has done an amazing job making that all work as a
thriller. You feel so
engaged with the characters' lives, that you're on the edge of your seat."
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2018 115®, All Rights Reserved.