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System Error

“For a period of time, everybody wins. That’s the thing.” – Stewart Cowley, former Wall Street fund manager

“There is no limit. The limit is the sky,” says a cattle breeder working on a massive feed lot carved out of cleared Brazilian rainforest.

“Growth is a law of nature and we can’t go against it,” says Audi’s head of production strategy, as robots perform complex, seemingly choreographed movements behind him in an automated assembly plant.

Sitting at his desk, the head of Germany’s most powerful industrial lobby group says, “Growth will continue no matter what… For me, that’s as immutable as gravity.”

Endless growth is a tenet of capitalism—larger markets, more products, new services. But can it really go on forever? Or are we about to ram up against its limits? And if we are, what happens then?

Shot in the US, Brazil, China, Germany, and the UK, SYSTEM ERROR explores the notion of endless growth in conversations with advocates such as a Brazilian soybean magnate, an algorithmic trader, finance journalists, and multinational executives—often letting the cameras roll while the interviewees themselves offer seemingly contradictory or incoherent arguments. (SYSTEM ERROR also features a brief appearance by financier and former Trump communications officer Anthony Scaramucci, who calls himself an “artist of capital,” and expounds on the inconceivability of an end to growth.)

The film is divided into chapters on subjects including the amorality of GDP, destructive agriculture, financialization, the decoupling of finance from the real-world economy, and automation. Each chapter opens with a relevant quote from Karl Marx and also features insightful commentary from ecological economist and sustainable development advocate Tim Jackson—who serves as a guide, offering clear explanations of sometimes complex concepts.

Award-winning director, Florian Optiz (SPEED, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME and THE BIG SELLOUT) uses gorgeous shots of earth from the International Space Station to subtly comment on the finite nature of the planet. Also, cinematographer Andy Lehmann delivers brilliantly framed and filmed scenes: a massive Airbus assembly plant; the interior of a packed barn in a poultry operation that turns over 15 million birds a year; a Beijing traffic jam with haze-covered high-rises in the distance. 

SYSTEM ERROR takes us from to the roots of the expectation of unlimited growth, particularly in the post-World War II years, to the financial crash of 2008 and beyond. Does the subsequent decade of simultaneous inequality, austerity, and soaring markets indicate that the system has become disconnected from reality? And by focusing on growth at all costs, have we created a system that is escaping our control and may destroy us?

"A very well made film, with impressive cinematography and great interviews... The madness of growth is clear and to the point! It's perfect." — Ulrike Herrmann, DLF Kultur

"An inspiring and very important movie." — Kino Ziet

"A great panopticon about the complex life on our planet." — Kino Kino

"In SYSTEM ERROR, the two-time Grimme-Preis Award winner Florian Opitz breaks down the limits of growth and examines the theses of capitalism critics by means of impressive examples." — Finanz Nachrichten

“Strongly recommended; a thoughtful critique. Interviewing experts including economists, industrialists, hedge fund managers, agribusiness farmers, engineers, and more, System Error examines the ups and downs of policies pursuing perpetual growth. A good primer for anyone who wants to see some of these issues assimilated into a larger context for better understanding.” — Video Librarian


Main credits

Opitz, Florian (film director)
Opitz, Florian (screenwriter)
Opitz, Florian (film producer)
Opitz, Florian (narrator)
Krüger, Jan (film producer)

Other credits

Music, Cico Beck, Florian Kreier & Bobby Rausch; directory of photography, Andy Lehmann; editor, Frank Müller.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

Economic Sociology
Ethics (Business)
Political Science


; "System Error"; Icarus Films; Florian Opitz; Germany; Karl Marx; Capitalism; ; "System Error"; Icarus Films

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