Growing up in Cranston, Steve Laffey didn’t travel much. In fact, he can count on two hands the number of times he ventured outside of the Ocean State before his 18th birthday.
Now, he’s making up for lost time.
Over the past year, former Mayor Laffey visited 21 states and drove thousands of miles in order to tell the story of Americans struggling to survive, and wondering where things went wrong. Together, those stories make “Fixing America,” a documentary written and produced by Laffey that offers solutions to the nation’s crisis.
“This is a great country but it’s at the precipice of failing. We need a positive story that shows what people in America, on the street, on the grassroots level, are thinking,” Laffey said. “It’s really amazing that people of all persuasions, of all different colors, rich people, poor people, love America. They know the problems are immense and they’re all willing to sacrifice more as long as it’s fair.”
That comes as no surprise to Laffey.
“I already knew that from running for mayor in Cranston,” he said.
Laffey likened the filmmaking process to campaigning. Traveling from state to state in an RV, using mostly back roads, Laffey and his crew stopped at gas stations, diners and parks to ask people how they were feeling – not unlike canvassing for an election. Letting them dictate the story, these average Americans shared their fears for the future and frustration with politics, but also hope that the country can be fixed.
“People do know that this problem is so gigantic and it’s caused by both parties. We’re left with both parties just fighting each other,” Laffey said. “This movie has some solutions as told by the American people. It helped me to re-engage with the national problems.”
The film, which is an hour and 20 minutes long, does include testimony from political experts, but it’s the people encountered on the street that make up most of the film.
Laffey was surprised, and touched, by how willing people were to sit down and talk candidly, even with a camera crew in tow.
“How many people have been asked serious questions about the state of this country? They were touched that somebody cared what they had to say,” Laffey said, calling the filmmaking process “joyful.”
It took about a year to film “Fixing America,” though editing tweaks continue. Choosing scenes and cutting out interviews was difficult for Laffey and his team, but they released a trailer for the film last week and will decide in the coming months how they plan to release the documentary.
One thing is for sure, Laffey said, that Cranston will get its own screening.
Likening the situation across the country to Cranston again, Laffey says much of the concern out there is about the financial state of things and the lack of political will to change it.
“America doesn’t have that much time. This has been a total disaster of our elected officials; our elected officials have put it at great risk,” he said.
He says he encountered the same risk when he took office in 2003. Laffey, who has degrees from Bowdoin College and the Harvard Business School, has a background in finance, and served as president of the financial institution Morgan Keegan & Company. He felt that experience would serve Cranston well. At the time, his hometown’s falling bond rating, and what he felt was government overspending, worried him.
“I knew the city was going to go broke,” he said.
Laffey ran for mayor successfully twice, before making an unsuccessful run for Senate, when he lost in a Republican primary to incumbent Lincoln Chafee. Laffey always proved to be an outspoken candidate, if not a controversial one.
The call to make a film reminded him of his call to public service.
Laffey was at the Sundance Film Festival when he heard writer and director J.C. Chandor discussing the film, “Margin Call,” which focuses on the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008. It struck Laffey that a similar story could be told from the perspective of the people.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks, kind of like running for mayor in Cranston,” he said.
With the seed planted, Laffey hit the ground running. He reached out to Executive Producer Stephen Skoly Jr., and they put together a team.
Now that the film is nearly ready for release, Laffey is already thinking about future film projects. He hasn’t ruled out a return to public office, either, and says he thinks he will run for office again. Whether or not it will be in Cranston or in his new home in Colorado remains unclear.
“The troubles in Rhode Island are so terrible, but the people are so good. It was such an honor to be the mayor in Cranston. I loved every minute of it,” he said, “but life goes on.”
For now, he and his wife are content in Colorado, where Laffey spends much of his time raising his six children. Those children have already traveled across the country, and Laffey believes they are better people for it. Through his experiences, they have been able to meet the type of people he believes will help rebuild America.
“People do care; they just don’t know what to do about it. It is the people of the world against these corrupt governments,” Laffey said. “They think sometimes they’re the only one thinking these things, but this movie tells them, ‘you’re not alone.’”
To view the trailer for “Fixing America,” or for more information, visit www.fixingamericamovie.com.