arts and design

Bank Job review – a classic ‘print money to cancel debt’ caper

Not to be confused with the Jason Statham heist caper, here’s a likable documentary with a big heart and some punch-the-air moments from husband and wife team Hilary Powell and Daniel Edelstyn. The film is the story of how they opened a “bank” on their high street in Walthamstow, north-east London, and printed money – a kind of art-installation-meets-community-activism project. On the banknotes they replaced the Queen’s head with portraits of local heroes: a food bank founder on the fiver; a soup kitchen volunteer on the tenner; a youth leader on the 20; a primary school headteacher on the 50.

The project was inspired by the Rolling Jubilee Fund in America, which bought $3.8m worth of students’ loans in 2014 and cancelled the debt. So, with the £40,000 raised from selling their art banknotes, Powell and Edelstyn spent half buying back £1.2m of debt owed by ordinary people in Walthamstow. (It cost so little because debt is sold for significantly less on the secondary market because it’s unlikely all of it will be paid back).

In a lovely scene they print letters to inform people that their debts have been paid off – posting them in nice expensive envelopes, not official-looking A4 ones with windows, which might put off the recipients from opening them. The other £20,000 was donated to the causes that feature on the banknotes.

Sweetly, the pair have kept in their bickering, and financial experts chip in to explain the rise of toxic debt culture. The film ends with Powell and Edelstyn blowing up a gold Ford Transit van full of “money” across the river from Canary Wharf, notes fluttering in the breeze – a symbolic gesture and homage to The Italian Job; though sadly they don’t manage to blow the bloody doors off.

Bank Job is released on 28 May in cinemas.


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