Director Jacob Kornbluth's "Inequality for All" is inspired by economist Robert Reich's book "Aftershock: The Next Economy & America's Future" and features the former U.S. labor secretary's analysis of such issues as wage stagnation and big money in politics.
"99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film" takes its cue from the 2011 protests that had activists camped out in cities around the country. Inspired by the collective approach of the Occupy movement, four directors and five co-directors oversaw the work of about 100 people, with more than 70 contributing footage to chronicle the protests.
Directors Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites got the film rolling after seeing streaming footage of mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge near their home. They flipped on the TV news and found no coverage of the protest, so they grabbed their cameras and started filming.
As protests spread to other cities, they put out a call for volunteers to help document the overall movement.
"People were seeing marches, people were seeing people camping in a park and talking about all these different issues. But it didn't feel like there was that one cohesive telling of the story where people could understand what they wanted, why they wanted it, where all of this anger and frustration was coming from," Ewell said. "Also to tell the story of the underlying issues that had brought all of these people to the streets of America to say, 'Enough.'"
"Inequality for All" follows Reich through a semester of teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, intercutting his lectures with interviews and segments with families who lost homes in the recession and are living from paycheck to paycheck.
Reich traces cycles in economic disparity over the last century, noting that the peaks of wealth concentration in the hands of the richest 1 percent of Americans occurred in 1928, the year before the Depression hit, and right before the 2007 recession.
"It's gotten to a tipping point," Reich said. "We can't really maintain our democracy when so much money is at the top infecting our democracy. We can't have an economy that can even get out of the gravitational pull of the recession when the vast middle class and everybody aspiring to join it doesn't have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going."
Among the fixes Reich suggests: getting big money out of political campaigns; investment in schools and colleges to boost educational opportunities; and reforming a tax system that allows the rich to pay a lower percentage of income than middle-class workers.
The two films are among the 16 competing for prizes in Sundance's U.S. documentary competition.