Tighten Your Belts, Bite the Bullet

Directed by James Gaffney, Martin Lucas, and Jonathan Miller

48 minutes / Color
Release: 1981
Copyright: 1980

Focusing on the 1970s fiscal crises in New York City and in Cleveland, Ohio, TIGHTEN YOUR BELTS, BITE THE BULLET looks at the root causes of fiscal crises in American cities, and the political responses to them.

In New York, the film traces the political and economic history leading to the default threat of the 1970s, and the creation of the Emergency Financial Control Board. It looks at what the effect of these developments were - cuts in city services with a devastating impact on city workers and residents.

The film contrasts New York's political response to the crisis with that of Cleveland, where then Mayor Dennis Kucinich, and his supporters, waged "The Battle of Cleveland" over what they viewed as nothing less than control of the city itself.

Using animation, news footage, and exclusive interviews, TIGHTEN YOUR BELTS, BITE THE BULLET is an enlightening history of a difficult period in recent urban history.

"This compelling documentary shows that, contrary to the famous dictum by Margaret Thatcher, there is always an alternative... In the times of yet another urban-cum-financial crisis, this is a very timely documentary, that can be used for classroom screenings in geography, urban studies, political science and political economy."—Anthropology Review Database, December 2011

"TIGHTEN YOUR BELTS combines clear understanding of basic urban issues with a compelling communication of their urgency."—Peter Marcuse, Professor of Urban Planning, Columbia University

"Interesting and important film... TIGHTEN YOUR BELTS, BITE THE BULLET should be made available on every street corner."—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Film Critic

"Purposeful coverage for public library and community group audiences and for college classes in urban planning and problems."—Booklist

"As clear an explanation of what's happening to our cities as you are going to get."—In These Times

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Select Accolades

  • 1981 New York Film Festival
  • 1982 Cleveland Film Festival


In the '70s and early '80s Detroit was the site of an unusual development in U.S. urban politics, as voters elected two socialists to citywide office. The film examines these people against the backdrop of a city in extreme economic crisis.

Stephen Lighthill | 1980 | 55 minutes | Color