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Unbankable: Red, White, and Blueprints Director Jack Storey Discusses Next Film Project

by Nikki Delamotte

Saving Cities’ Jack Storey was told no one would listen to a film about the Rust Belt. Three years later, Red, White, and Blueprints: A Rust Belt Documentary debuted to sold-out audiences. Today, Storey announces plans for a second documentary, Unbankable, to explore the challenges of entrepreneurship within a new generation and he’s asking for that same generation to speak up.

From the time Jack Storey set out half a decade ago to explore the perception of the Rust Belt to the completion of his first documentary on the subject, he found himself at a unique crossroads of place-based storytelling. Before the vogue of Rust Belt buzzwords, before the panache of the idea of a region salvaging itself, Storey was shooting b-roll of cityscapes on a low budget camera from the window of a secondhand car.

“People told me I was crazy,” he recounted last year just weeks before the film, created under the umbrella of Storey’s civic organization Saving Cities, had its first showing.

By the end of the three year stint of what would become Red, White, and Blueprints: A Rust Belt Documentary, Storey, along with the rest of the region, was at the crux of what glossy out-of-state tourism commentary now deemed a revival.

Storey shattered all expectations as Blueprints debuted at the Cleveland International Film Festival to sold-out audiences. As minimal as it was, it lent itself to the do-it-yourself resilience captured in its pursuit to document a series of Rust Belt catalysts from Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Buffalo. And while it was meant to trace attitudes and shake up preconceived notions, at heart it was a movie about makers and connecters.

Inspired by the recurring threads he saw in Blueprints’ subjects, Storey has set the plans in motion for Saving Cities’ second documentary, tentatively titled Unbankable, to explore the hurdles of being an entrepreneur and bring light to the generational divide of business ownership.

“How do we differentiate and let people know entrepreneurship isn’t just Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs, and it’s Koula and Louie who started this restaurant with nothing?” Storey’s usual tone, impassioned but pragmatic, is louder now over the clinks and clamor of an early morning shift at Gus’s Diner. The table’s window overlooks East 185th.

The entirety of Collinwood’s East 185th Street is lined with small ventures, the kind that inspired Storey to devote three years to studying their impact within our region. With Unbankable, he hopes to delve deeper into the stories of a new set of business owners – this time from the very breaking ground up.

“When I started Blueprints, I wanted to make a movie about Rust Belt entrepreneurship. It moved into being this movie about place,” says Storey. “Then I thought about everything I had on the cutting room floor, the 10 years it took the Vines Brothers [of St. Louis’ STL Style] to get to the point where people cared. That was the common story between all of these people.”

Today’s obstacles facing young entrepreneurs are no small barriers. The rising cost of college and the consequential student loan debt. Legislature that limits building healthy credit history. The early education gap of reinforcing business ownership as a realistic option.  “It’s the accidental side effects of even the best intentions,” Storey adds. Unbankable will tackle and unveil their repercussions on the modern landscape, specifically focusing on 18 to 35-year-olds.

“There’s little venture capital for things that aren’t Facebook 2.0 or medical research. I understand that from an economic standpoint — it’s the thing that people see value in,” he says. “But there’s still value in retail, there’s still value in these smaller enterprises. And, in fact, they still employ a healthy amount of the country. So if we can’t have people starting those now, how are we going to get there twenty years from now?”

The wealth of economic and community impact of the work of Blueprints’ subjects focused Storey on the need to challenge the structure.

“Why isn’t that a thing we’re promoting all the time? Look at these people; look at what they’ve done, not just for themselves but for their city, for other people in the city. Providing products and services, providing a safe place for people to have a civil conversation,” says Storey. “Those people from Blueprints really drove the idea that we need to have this discussion now. We have to be prepared that this isn’t going to be some system where everything’s going to be okay as long as we play along.”

Storey is beginning to seek entrepreneurs, this time from across the country, to be documented in the film. Much like his open-ended organizing work throughout Cleveland, his early planning stages for the film invite a dialogue about reform, from instilling youth with the knowledge and tools to be business owners to questioning the laws that already restrain progress.

“There has to be a resolve for this at a very basic level that we can start to build for ourselves. It’s the same theory that the Rust Belt wasn’t going to be okay until the Rust Belt itself decided it was going to be okay,” Storey says. “I think coming into this, we’re going to tackle a tougher topic because I’m ready. It’s a conversation that needs to be had.”

Find Saving Cities at their official website and on Facebook.

Get involved with Saving Cities and the making of Unbankable. Who would make a great entrepreneur to document? What challenges do young entrepreneurs face? Give your feedback here.

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