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Sundance 2013: 'Inequality for All' Star Robert Reich on Tea Party, Occupy and Anger

The documentary about income inequality premiered Jan. 19 at Prospector Square Theatre.

Inequality for All
"Inequality For All"

In the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown and the Occupy Wall St. and Tea Party movements, the documentary Inequality For All is a timely look at income disparity, public policy and contemporary politics.

The film from director Jacob Kornbluth (2004 Sundance title The Best Thief in the World) stars former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, whose lectures in his spring 2012 UC Berkeley class "Wealth and Poverty" form the backbone of the project. The movie is filled with slick animated charts and graphs, which help break down complicated economic data and also make Inequality For All somewhat reminiscent of Davis Guggenheim's hit global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006).

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A portion of the film is dedicated to the Occupy Wall St. and Tea Party movements, and it introduces the groups to illustrate how people have reacted to the growing gap between the middle class and the wealthiest Americans (including the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling on campaign finance). On attendee took issue with the juxtaposition of the two movements during the film's post-screening Q&A on Saturday at the Prospector Square Theatre, saying, "Suggesting that the Tea Party and Occupy movement are the same is bullshit."

Reich, who received a standing ovation when he took the stage after the screening, had a quick retort for the attendee: "With all due respect, you're full of bullshit. And I mean this sincerely. Both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement and other angry people ... both of them grew out of the same fundamental frustration and anger.

"Different political philosophies entirely," Reich continued. "But we need to understand how much that frustration and anger and disillusionment and cynicism has been correlated and caused by those problems we've seen growing over the last 30 years."

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Inequality For All, which is screening in Sundance's U.S. Documentary Competition section, was funded partly by people who gave money to Kickstarter.com, the crowd-sourcing website that has become popular with independent filmmakers. (Oscar-winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian and his wife are listed in the credits as having helped fund the film.)

The Kickstarter funding totaled $83,392 and was an "essential" part of the project's undisclosed budget, according to a source. Kornbluth said in the post-screening Q&A that he felt Kickstarter was an appropriate financing tool given the film's message. "It felt so in line with the spirit of the film. It gave us hope in a number of different of ways. It made us feel like we were part of a community who cared about this stuff. it made us feel connected to people," said Kornbluth, who also acknowledged people in the audience who had contributed to the Kickstarter campaign.

He said that he'd been hesitant to use Kickstarter as a funding source and was initially afraid it would not work. "I can't tell you how heartening it was to see people putting in a few bucks or whatever they could to contribute to making a film like this."   In addition to looking at the Occupy and Tea Party movements, Inequality For All includes the stories of a handful of families struggling to keep their heads above water financially. Some of the scenes of struggle, including one woman who cried as she said that she only had $25 in her bank account, moved the audience to tears. When people in the 324-seat theater were asked after the screening to raise their hands if they had cried, about a third did so.

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Reich said he was "flabbergasted" by the filmmakers' ability to translate his message onscreen. "I've been writing and I've been screaming and teaching and being Secretary of Labor for years -- but they did it!" he said.

Reich, a popular figure on the TV political talk show circuit, was gracious during the Q&A, but demurred when he was asked by an attendee to assess President Barack Obama's performance and compare it the performance of President Bill Clinton, whom Reich served.

"I would love to spend time talking to you guys about economics and politics, but I really want to talk about this wonderful film," he said.

Jen Chaiken and Sebastian Dungan produced the film. WME and Lichter Grossman Nichols Adler & Feldman are handling worldwide sales for the film.  

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller