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Director Jacob Kornbluth describes his documentary Inequality For All as “An Inconvenient Truth for the economy.” The film’s Al Gore figure is economist and UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich who explains how the U.S. middle class shriveled, crippling economic growth. According to the film, the fact that only 400 people own half of America’s assets could be a death sentence to the economy — and even democracy.
Kornbluth himself is well acquainted with poverty. Because his father died with he was young, “My mom raised a family of four on a substitute teacher’s salary,” he told MoveOn. “I think it was $9,000 to $15,000 a year. So I was always kind of aware of who gets what in society.”
His career as an indie filmmaker wasn’t political at all. “I always wanted to be a storyteller, but I didn’t want to tell stories that told people what to think,” he said. All of that changed when he felt like not only was the economy failing Americans, but the dialogue around it was too. “I decided I had to drop everything. As a filmmaker, I thought, ‘I should pick up a camera and do something.’ So for the first time in my life, I decided to get active.”
Getting active meant interviewing Reich ifor a series of web videos about the economy that caught the eye of MoveOn, The Nation, and hundreds of thousands of viewers. Kornbluth then got the urge to make something even bigger: a movie explaining the economic situation in a more straightforward, more engaging way than the nightly news. “So I pitched the idea to [Reich],” Kornbluth says. “I think he agreed because he didn’t know what he was getting into.” Kornbluth, Reich, and company shot 550 hours of footage over the course of a year, and then spent another nine months editing.
The surprising result is a film about economics that’s fun, funny, and even a tearjerker at times. “I hope that people who don’t normally watch films about economics watch this movie, because I think they’ll like it,” Kornbluth says. “Inequality affects us all: rich, poor, middle class, everyone. Liberals, conservatives…Conservatives like the movie. A lot of them have been persuaded by the arguments. It doesn’t play like an overly partisan film.”
“The idea is,” he continues, “even the rich would do better with a smaller share of a rapidly growing economy than they would with a larger share of an economy that’s been as stagnant as America’s has been for the past five years. The position of the film is not to demonize the rich or to, frankly, demonize conservatives either. It’s simply to say, this is a problem that affects us all.”
So what if you’re convinced inequality’s a problem but feel overwhelmed? Kornbluth says the Inequality For All website breaks inequality down into six areas so you can pick where to take action: tax reform, campaign finance reform, Wall Street reform, education, the need for unions, and the fight for a decent living wage. “Consider me two or three years ago,” he advises. “I was frustrated, but everybody can do something. If I can do something, everybody can.”