The theme of the Traverse City Film Festival a week ago was “One Great Movie Can Change You.”
For me, that festival movie was “Inequality for All,” a movie I like to think the 88-minute documentary could change a lot of lives, attitudes and our understanding of complicated American economic policy.
It is a film built around “wealth and poverty” classes taught by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkley, author and political commentator. The filmmaker, Jacob Kornbluth, usually works in comedy.
It’s an informative, engaging and entertaining documentary with a thread of gentle humor running through it.
It breaks down a complex American economic reality into a simple terms that regular folks can understand and maybe do something about. There is no rant here, just an attempt to educate the public on the complicated disparity between the nation’s few wealthy elite, a shrinking middle class and the growing poor.
Education is power.
Robert Reich is a knowledgeable, well-spoken and funny man. He offers a riveting and clear explanation of how and why America’s middle class is shrinking — getting smaller piece of America’s economic pie — while the nation’s wealthiest people are getting bigger and bigger portions.
Recent research indicates that the country’s 400 wealthiest people own half of the nation’s assets, he said.
It is clear in the film that this 4-foot-10-inch economist is a giant in his concern about that disparity and the way too many billionaires, millionaires, lobbyists, and congressional delegates have disconnected from the middle class and poor.
The disconnect is dangerous for both the economy and democracy, he said.
It is middle class spending that creates jobs and fuels the economy, not the so-called rich “job creators.” Seventy percent of the economy is based on middle class spending. The economy can’t grow if middle class doesn’t, or can’t, buy goods. Middle class wages have been declining for decades, now good-paying jobs and benefits are vanishing.
The problem is serious but receives scant attention in Washington, he said. The problem goes far beyond partisan politics.
Reich said the goal of the documentary is to offer a clear understanding of the nation’s economic plight so that the debate can move beyond polarizing “commie/socialist” allegations and the public can effectively insist on better economic policy.
He said the American people have successfully done this twice before in the corruption and greed days of the early 1900s which led to strong anti-trust laws and regulations. And again during the Great Depression.
“Inequality for All” was a surprise hit early this year when first shown at the Sundance Festival. I can see why. It gives hope.
The film will premiere at the nation’s 25 top movie theaters Sept. 27.