Jake by IMDb.com
My guest today is Jacob Kornbluth, an award-winning writer and filmmaker. He's the director of Inequality of All, a new film that features former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, who examines income inequality in America today.
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Jake. How did this film come about?
JK: The film started in the way you hope all films start -- it was a real passion project. The Great Recession had hit, and like lots of people, I was sitting around with my friends debating what had happened to America. We were all genuinely worried, but I could feel my concerns were a bit all over the place at the time. The bank bailout didn't seem fair. I didn't know how I was ever going to save for retirement. The American economy just didn't seem "right". I felt like the more I read about or watched television coverage of what caused the Great Recession, the less I understood it.
As a way to understand it, I began asking Bob Reich about it and making short videos. This became a series -- something we thought of as "explainer" videos, that were two-three minutes long. Lots of people watched them, and I began to think that there was an audience for a larger film.
Around that same time, Bob was writing his book Aftershock, and he was kind enough to let me read a manuscript. I had a kind of "aha!" moment while reading it. It talks about the story of the last 40 years as one of an increasing divide between the rich and everyone else. That economic imbalance wasn't just a moral problem -- it was bad for our economy. And perhaps most scarily for me, it showed how having an economic system so radically out of balance affects our democracy. It made sense of a lot of the feelings of general unease I had been having.
I'm 40 years old, and it hit me -- this is both the story of our times, and the story of my life. I felt like I had to make this film, and dropped everything to start working on it right then.
.Inequality for All. movie poster by "Inequality for All" website
JB: A perfect storm, so to speak. How did your initial collaboration with Bob come about? I don't imagine that you just called him up and said, "I don't get what's going on. I don't know you but can you please explain it to me? And while you're at it, we'll make some videos so other people can understand it too."
JK: I was casting a comedy that I was working on with my brother, Josh, called Love & Taxes, and we reached out to Bob to see if he'd play a role. When we met, Bob and I got along right away. I think it was around this time that Bob had heard from his son, Sam, that if he wanted to reach young people he had to figure out how to make videos, so I think he was on the look out for someone to work with. He was actually the one who said "if you ever want to make videos"" Of course, this was at the same time that I was looking for some kind of political outlet. So, I think Bob and I both had our reasons for wanting to work together. The timing worked out perfectly.
Bob's co-star by "Inequality for All" website
JB: To go from two-minute videos to a full-length film is a big deal. So, the project benefited from the fact that you already had experience in various aspects of filmmaking under your belt. For readers who may not be familiar with your work, would you please fill us in on what you'd been up to before Inequality for All?
JK: It is a pretty eclectic story, but I'll explain it as best as I can. I started out directing theater. My brother, Josh Kornbluth, is a comic solo performer in the Bay Area, and I directed several of his pieces. My first film was an adaptation of one of those solo shows -- it was called Haiku Tunnel, and although you'd never guess it from the title, it was an office comedy about a "temp" office worker that struggles when he goes "perm". It got into Sundance and was released by Sony Pictures Classics. Unfortunately (in many ways), the film's premiere was Sept. 11, 2001. People have told me that was the worst day to release a film since Pearl Harbor got attacked. After that, I made a somewhat autobiographical intense family drama called The Best Thief in the World. It was about a troubled kid that breaks into other people's apartments to rearrange the furniture and kind of mess with their minds. I made it with a group of NY theater actors that I had admired -- Mary Louise Parker, Audra McDonald, David Warshofsky, and Lois Smith, among others -- and some non-actor kids. It also got into Sundance and was released by Showtime Independent Films.
I'm incredibly proud of both of those films, and both films have lots of fans, but the film industry (understandably) had trouble knowing what to make of me. Was I a comedy director or was I more about drama? I can say that, for me, all of the projects I work on are connected and they were all stories that were personally important for me to tell. In between those films, I've directed plenty of videos and short-form projects, and written scripts for hire. I can only imagine the difficulty the industry will now have have putting those two earlier films in a box with a documentary about the economy!
For Inequality For All, however, the truth is that all of those diverse experiences were crucial to making the film. I didn't have a background or inclination towards didactic storytelling, for example -- my passion is aroused much more by character and the complexity in humanity rather than lecturing or reducing a problem to pat answers -- and I think that was exactly the right background and approach to make Inequality For All.