The United States’ postwar housing policy created the world’s largest middle class. It also set America on two divergent paths -- one of imagined wealth, propped up by speculation and endless booms and busts, and the other in systematically defunded, segregated communities, where “the American dream” feels hopelessly out of reach.
Owned is a fever dream vision into the dark history behind the US housing economy. Tracking its overtly racist beginnings and its unbridled commoditization, the film exposes a foundational story that few Americans understand as their own.
In 2008, the US housing market became the epicenter of an unprecedented global economic collapse. In the years since, protests in cities like Baltimore have highlighted the stark racial disparities that define many American cities. The crash of suburbia and urban unrest are not unrelated -- they are two sides of the same coin, two divergent paths set in motion by the United States’ post-war housing policy.
“Home ownership to me means freedom — strictly. The more and more I evaluate this world, the more and more I understand: when you don’t own anything, you are nothing.”
- Greg Butler, featured in Owned
The prevailing narrative is that the migration from American cities that began in the 1950’s, often referred to as “white flight,” was caused by the degradation of city centers and the growth of suburbia. But this was neither a matter of preference, nor a “natural” self-segregation.
After World War II, the US government sought to provide housing for returning veterans and their families, while enabling them to build wealth through homeownership. Postwar policies spurred a decades-long construction boom and enabled millions of Americans to buy homes -- and they benefited white people exclusively. Racial segregation determined how communities grew, and government policies directly subsidized white America, while denying opportunities to black people and other minorities.
Through the stories of a retired New York City cop, an eccentric Orange County realtor, and an aspiring real estate developer in Baltimore, Owned explores the promise of US housing policies, the systematic oppression in many of America’s “chocolate cities,” and the communities that these systems have created. The film suggests that ultimately, these communities have more in common than they might expect.
Baltimore resident. House flipper. And activist. Greg is fighting for justice in the midst of turbulent times in Baltimore.
Jimmy is a proud resident of Levittown, NY. Reminiscing about his earlier days, growing up in Brooklyn and becoming a police officer, Jimmy reflects on an unfortunate history that few know about.
Jim "The Realtor" is selling the American dream in Southern California. But just below the bravado of a top performing real estate broker is a man fed up with the corruption his own industry.
After serving two years as a Kellogg Health Scholar at Morgan State University, Lawrence was hired as an Assistant Professor in the Morgan State School of Community Health and Policy in January 2013. His scholarly work focuses on the intersection of masculinity, racism, and health; the impact of residential displacement and financial disinvestment on community health; and understanding ethics and economic development in the domain of global health
Robert Shiller is a professor of Economics at Yale University. He's the co-creator of the Case/Shiller Housing index, a gold-standard for housing data for the Standards & Poor's.
Shiller received the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics for his work in the American housing industry.
Nikole Hannah-Jones is a journalist for the New York Times and a 2017 MacArthur Genius Fellow for her work investigating the way racial segregation in housing and schools is maintained through official action and policy.
She has written extensively about school re-segregation across the country and the utter disarray of hundreds of school desegregation orders. She has also chronicled the decades-long failure of the federal government to enforce the landmark 1968 Fair Housing Act and wrote one of the most widely read analyses of the racial implications of the controversial Fisher v. University of Texas affirmative action Supreme Court case.
Richard Rothstein is a researcher at the Economic Policy Institute and the author of "The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America."
Rey Ramsey has worked in housing his entire professional life. Serving as Chairman of Habitat For Humanity for several years, Rey has fought for more access to affordable housing. He is currently the managing partner at Centri Capital, an impact investment fund focused on the development of affordable housing.
Dianne Harris is an architectural and urban historian and editor of "Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania." She is currently a senior program officer at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation where she focuses on Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities. From 2015–2017 she served as dean of the College of Humanities and as professor of history at the University of Utah.
Matthew is a fellow at the Open Markets Institute in Washington DC. His research tracks the history of the relationship between concentrated financial power and the Democratic party in the 20th century.
Prior to joining the Open Markets program, he spent six years on Capitol Hill, most recently as a senior policy advisor to the Senate Budget Committee where he focused on trade, competition policy, and financial services. He has helped author legislation on Federal Reserve reform, the concentration of power among banks, and the restructuring of our trading arrangements.
Charles, or Chuck as his friend's call him, is a civil engineer-turned urban planning advocate. His experience developing suburban sprawl forced him to re-examine the way in which America develops its neighborhoods and cities. He now operates an educational non-profit called Strong Towns, working to support a model of development that allows America's cities, towns, and neighborhoods to become more financially resilient.
Michael Maltzan is an LA-based architect and AIA fellow. From large institutional projects to social housing work, his designs have received numerous prestigious awards over the years.
Leigh is the Senior Editor at large for Fortune Magazine. She also published "The End of the Suburbs" in 2013. The book covered the strange and unique experience of suburban development in the US, exposing the system as having been unsustainable from the start.
Giorgio Angelini came into film from a longer, multi-faceted career in the creative arts. After touring in bands like The Rosebuds and Bishop Allen for much of his 20s, Giorgio enrolled in the Masters of Architecture program at Rice University during the depths of the 2008 real estate collapse. It was during this tumultuous time that the seeds for Giorgio’s documentary debut, Owned, began to take shape.
Awarded a research grant to photograph the abandoned McMansions of Inland Empire, California, what Giorgio ultimately encountered was an environment far more perverse and disturbing than he had initially anticipated. Thousands of square miles once replete with thriving orange groves, burnt down to make way for a new commodity—conditioned square footage. With access to cheap money dried out, the charred orange groves sat alongside these half-built McMansions. Commodities in limbo. It was clear there was a larger story to tell.
Following graduate school, Angelini began working with the boutique architecture firm, Schaum Shieh Architects, where he designed a wide array of projects. From an exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale to the White Oak Music Hall in Houston, Texas, which received an AIA design award in 2017.
Focusing on film now, Giorgio launched his own production company, Section Perspective Films. A nod to his intersection between architecture and film. Giorgio also served as the executive producer for the feature film My Friend Dahmer (2017) and directed a documentary-short for celebrated performance artist Mary Ellen Carroll entitled My Death is Pending…Because.
Giorgio is currently in production for his next feature documentary film he's producing with animator Arthur Jones about Pepe the Frog, memetics, and the rise of far-right politics in America.
Maggie Burns is a real estate executive and creative strategist with a passion for documentary film. She began her career in finance as a trader at a hedge fund, where she watched the global financial collapse unfold. She went on to manage an investment fund consisting primarily of distressed real estate assets before transitioning into the real estate technology space, where she’s held a variety of roles in startups backed by leading venture capital firms.
Maggie served as Associate Producer of Cutie and the Boxer, which was nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and won an Emmy for Best Documentary. She holds a B.A. (Plan II) from The University of Texas at Austin.
Drew Blatman is a director, cinematographer, and editor whose work spans documentary film, music videos, and commercials.
He is a member of the cult comedy group Sunset Television, whose bizarre TV shows, undiscovered cult films, and nonsense commercials blur the lines between original content and found footage. Most recently, Sunset Television created a pilot for Adult Swim called “Biker Bar.”
Drew is also a member of the directors’ collaborative Weird Days, which specializes in off-kilter commercials and music videos, such as a recent project for the band Real Estate during which they performed with a horse.
He also directs his own documentaries and is currently filming in Cassadaga, a small town of psychics and mediums in Central Florida. After a ten year run in New York, he now lives in North Palm Beach, Florida. His work can be seen at http://www.drewblatman.com. Drew has a BFA in Film from the University of Central Florida and an MFA in Film from Columbia University.
Guy Mossman began making films in 1999 as a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay. He is best known for his work as Director of Photography on acclaimed films including the 2011 Sundance Audience Award-winning film, Buck (Sundance/IFC) and the National Board of Review Award-winning Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (Sundance/IFC).
Notable collaborations include Bravo's ‘Guide to Extreme Parenting’ (2013, Series DP, Bravo TV, dir. Lauren Lazin), ‘The Fashion Fund’ (2013, Ovation TV, DP, dir. Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg), ‘The Blues House’ (2013, dir. Sam Pollard), ‘Mariachi High’ (ITVS/PBS, DP, 2012, dir. Ilana Trachtmann and Kim Connell), ’Comi-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope’ (2011, dir. Morgan Spurlock), and ‘Sex Crimes Unit’ (HBO, Co-DP, 2011, dir. Lisa F. Jackson). Most recently, Guy was Director of Photography on the highly-anticipated 6-part documentary series ‘Los Jets’ about an all-Latino boys high school soccer team in rural North Carolina airing on NUVOtv in the summer of 2014. Now based in Los Angeles, Mossman runs Vox Pop Films with his wife, Lisa Hepner. They are currently producing and directing their first feature-length documentary together entitled The Human Trial (www.thehumantrial.com) about the race to cure Diabetes.
David Usui began his career producing television for NBC, the Discovery Channel and MTV. As a filmmaker, he has contributed work to the NY Times, the Atlantic and VICE. He recently co-directed In Transit, a feature length documentary with acclaimed filmmaker Albert Maysles which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the Special Jury Prize.
In 2009 he co-founded Lost & Found Films, a non-fiction production company based in NYC that produces documentaries and commercials with brands, ad agencies, broadcasters and NGOs. David studied philosophy and environmental studies at Western Washington University and is currently an adjunct professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
J.C. Faulk had been a diversity consultant for more than 20 years, mostly on the corporate level, when one day he decided to use his talents in a different way. Faulk said, “I would walk into corporate environments, knowing that it was likely that they were checking a box to have me there. It did not sit well with me, because I wanted to something to change.”
In 2015, he decided to facilitate open discussions about race and racism in Baltimore. He invited a few people over to his home for a conversation about the impact of racism. This dialogue took place in his living room. He called the discussion, “Circles of Voices.”
“Twelve people attended the first one. Sixteen came to the second event. Twenty came for the third, and it was getting too big for my living room,” Faulk said, since then, he has hosted Circles of Voices in art galleries and other meeting spaces throughout the city, hosting 40 to 120 people per session. Nearly 2,000 participants have attended Circles of Voices events over the past two years.
JC is currently embarking on his directorial debut with a documentary feature about the legacies of slavery in America.
Acacia is an archeologist and researcher based in Washington DC. She's spent the past several years managing archeological digs in and around New York City, collecting artifacts that help reconstruct our understanding of the early days of the city. She's taught at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she spent several years fostering a curiosity for the wonder of our built world.
Acacia is the founder of Archaeological Analytics, a transformative research and archiving platform that seeks to change the way institutions around the world catalogue their artifacts, allowing for a greater shared knowledge base across individuals, institutions, and countries.
Alessandro is an Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University's Department of Anthropology. His work focuses on building practices and cultural production shape political subjectivity in urban squatter settlements. He holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from CUNY Graduate Center in 2013 and is completing a postdoctoral research project at the London School of Economics.
Alessandro's first book project, titled "Model Favela: Youth, Second Nature, and Rio de Janeiro," based on four years of ethnographic research, is about the social ordering of creativity. It analyzes an iconoclastic role-playing game in which Afro-Brazilian working-class male youth represent a dynamic but uneven cityscape in a hand-built model of Rio, constructed with painted bricks and found scraps.
Angelini's postdoctoral work with the LSE forms part of a multilateral project on the commodification of urban poverty and violence across four cities in the Americas: Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Kingston, and New Orleans.
Zachary Heinzerling is known for his cinematic and artful approach to capturing real moments and intimate performances. A Texas native who majored in philosophy and art before turning to filmmaking, Zachary began his career at HBO as a production assistant. He quickly worked his way up the ranks on four consecutive Emmy Award-winning documentaries and the Emmy Award-winning series 24/7, working as a Field Producer and Cinematographer. In 2012, he left HBO to complete his feature debut, the multi-award-winning film, Cutie and the Boxer, which he both directed and shot.
Cutie and the Boxer was nominated for a 2014 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and also received a field-leading three Cinema Eye Awards for Outstanding Debut Feature, Outstanding Visual Effects, and Outstanding Original Score by acclaimed composer Yasuaki Shimizu. That same year, Zachary won the Sundance Film Festival Directing Award, the Charles Guggenheim Emerging Artist Award, as well as the International Documentary Association's Emerging Documentary Filmmaker Award. He was also nominated for a 2014 DGA award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement.
Otto is an award-winning director and producer of the BAFTA-Nominated and Oscar-Shortlisted documentary, The Eagle Huntress. Following the success of the film, he founded Courageous, CNN/Turner's first brand studio where he currently works as Chief Creative Officer.