Nearly six years ago, I examined one of our state’s—and America’s—most pressing problems through the eyes of six Coloradans in "The Face of Hunger." These individuals came from different backgrounds, lived in different corners of the state, and had very different life experiences. They all had one thing in common, though: food insecurity. I learned that it’s not a stereotype relegated to the panhandler on the corner with the cardboard sign. And that often, it’s the inadequate state or federal assistance programs and unrealistic standards, such as the definition of “poverty line” (currently $23,000 for a family of four) that perpetuate hunger problems in our state. The most heartbreaking part: People were ashamed to have these problems, but were stuck without solutions.
That was in 2007. Today, the problem persists. And that problem is chronicled in a new documentary, A Place At The Table, which premieres this Friday (March 1) at Landmark Theatres’ Mayan Theatre. Magnolia Pictures and Participant Media (of An Inconvenient Truth, Food, Inc., and Waiting for “Superman” fame) have brought us a film that captures the gravity of our nation’s hunger problems and its social, economic, and cultural implications. Producers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine hunger in America through three storylines: A single mom in Philadelphia struggling to feed her two kids; a second-grader in Mississippi with asthma and health problems worsened by poor diet; and a Colorado fifth-grader named Rosie (pictured here) who can’t concentrate in school because she’s hungry, and sometimes turns to friends or neighbors for food. “The atmosphere in Rosie’s school and town…there are others who are struggling,” Jacobson says. “As filmmakers, it’s rare to come across a kid so spirited and able to articulate what some adults cannot. Rosie emerges as someone everyone can seem to relate to.”
The filmmakers intersperse their footage of each location with testimony from experts, organizations, and ordinary citizens working to alleviate the problem. While famous faces such as Jeff Bridges lend an air of national importance to the film, it’s the less-recognizable voices that leave a lasting impression. A recent meeting with one of the documentary “characters,” teacher Leslie Nichols of Collbran, Colorado, revealed an inspiring dedication to her students and community. “On a personal level, it’s almost been therapeutic,” Nichols says. “I grew up feeling like I was on the other side of the tracks. But we never talked about it. We just kind of lived it. We didn’t always have water or electricity. It was always a struggle. But I had dreams. My job as a teacher has allowed me to hit this head-on. It was almost a door that opened as an opportunity to connect with the kids.”
According to Hunger Free Colorado, about a quarter of Colorado households with kids face food hardship, and more than a quarter of working families don’t make enough money to meet their basic needs. More than 815,000 Coloradans are at risk of being hungry. “One major discovery [while making the film] was how many people are impacted by this,” Jacobson says. “I’ve found, again and again, in conversations during the making of this film, people saying, ‘I know that feeling…and it never leaves.’ ”
The film’s takeaway: Hunger is a solvable problem. But our current methods—charitable organizations, complicated food assistance programs—are just Band-aids. Our elected leaders, and the American public, need to step up and make a change. Learn more at the film premiere this Friday.
—Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures