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Meet the Filmmakers of Finding North, a Documentary about Hunger in America
A new documentary about hunger in America called “Finding North” was screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT, and received excellent reviews from The Los Angeles Times and Variety Magazine. The film shows several families in the United States struggling with food insecurity, demonstrating the extensive reach of hunger in America. Bread for the World Institute was the first major investor in the film, before it was bought by Participant Productions, and David Beckmann appears in the film. I had a chance to interview the film's two directors, Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, and asked them about their inspiration and what they learned about the complexities of hunger. Read their responses below, and watch the film trailer for a sneak peak at this exciting new documentary.
What was the inspiration for making "Finding North"?
Lori Silverbush: I was mentoring a young girl named Sabrina whose family lived in a shelter. I was shocked to learn that her family frequently went hungry. In fact, I had inadvertently made her hungrier; I helped her get into a special private school for learning-disabled kids, but it didn't offer free breakfast or lunch, which I later learned were usually her only meals for the day. The principal of the new school called me to say that Sabrina was foraging in the trash for food. I couldn't believe it.
I knew there was hunger in this country, but until then it was an abstraction to me.
Kristi Jacobsen: Once I started researching the project, I realized how pervasive and insidious [hunger] is – affecting not just children, but also parents and community members. There’s this problem affecting everyone in such a negative way and yet the average American seems to be unaware of it. We couldn’t look away. This is a story that had to be told.
Prior to making this film, what did you know about hunger in America?
LS: I knew that hunger was a problem. I knew the statistics, though they didn't feel real to me. I had many misconceptions about hunger -- namely who went hungry. I had no idea the extent to which it was a growing working class issue. I learned an enormous amount about who goes hungry and where.
But most particularly, I learned why people go hungry in this country and that charity -- while vitally important in the absence of an adequate government safety net for hungry people and laws mandating a living wage -- is not a solution. Some problems are simply too big for the private sector to fix.
What was one particular subject or story line in the film that really impacted you?
KJ: I think that rather than mentioning a person, the town of Coburn, CO, had almost no one in the town that hadn’t been affected by hunger, including the chief of police, a cattle rancher who also works nights as the janitor of the school, and a family with a little girl, Rosie. We met her because her teacher told us that she had this one student who was struggling because she was hungry.
I think one of the poignant moments in our filming in Coburn was while interviewing the teacher, Leslie. She was doing a great deal to help kids and families suffering from hunger, and then during the interview, we discovered that she was also hungry as a child. You just don’t know how many people hunger is touching until you ask the questions and that’s what we sought to do as filmmakers.
Why is hunger a topic that people should be concerned about?
LS: I think Dr. Martin Luther King said it best: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." If people are allowed to go hungry when we have the resources to feed them, what does that say about us as a nation? But if compassion and a sense of shared responsibility aren't enough to get people to care about hunger, then hopefully the economics are -- the effects of hunger cost our economy billions of dollars more than fixing it would. It's in every taxpayer’s financial best interest to end hunger, and soon.
KJ: People should see this film because the stories we tell will touch them and shock them, and I believe they’ll want to become a part of the solution. There is no one silver bullet to solving this problem, but there are a number of things that we, as a nation, can do. Our government needs to take responsibility, and we as individuals should take more responsibility by putting pressure on the government. We all have a role to play as a solution and we hope that the film will start a conversation.
Jeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. Follow her on Twitter @jeanniechoi.
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