Director Linda Midgett Talks About 'The Line'
Photo: John, a former banker who is one of the subjects of The Line, shops for himself and his three children at a food bank. (Film still from The Line)
By Sarah Godfrey
When Emmy-winning filmmaker Linda Midgett set out to find subjects for The Line, her short film documenting what it means to live at, or below, the poverty line in America, she had no trouble finding people dealing firsthand with hunger and poverty. What was difficult, Midgett says, was finding subjects willing to talk about those difficulties in front of her camera.
"I think it’s easy to find people who are struggling in these ways, but I think what was the bigger challenge was finding people willing to share their struggles publicly," she says. "I talked to food pantries, to various organizations, I talked to the Salvation Army. A lot of people I reached out to were not willing to go on camera.
"I don’t say that as a criticism," she continues. "But, for me, it highlighted how much shame is associated with being in poverty."
The Line goes a long way toward addressing the shame and the stereotypes that often surround poverty. The film tracks four subjects: John, who lives in the suburbs of Chicago and, after losing his six-figure job in the banking industry, finds himself dependent on food banks to feed his family; Sheila, a Chicago resident who grew up in poverty, escaped its clutches, and finds herself again facing financial difficulty after a debilitating accident; James, who moves from New York City to North Carolina in search of work, and still barely scrapes by, despite working long, hard hours; and Ronald, a Gulf Coast shrimper whose livelihood has been affected by both Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.The Line was funded by a partnership of organizations, including Sojourners, World Vision, and Bread for the World. The film premieres tonight, at church viewings around the country, at 8 p.m., eastern time.
One of the things that separates The Line from other films tackling issues of hunger and poverty in America is the fact that Midgett allows the subjects to tell their stories themselves, without interference.
"I felt like one of the most important things I was trying to do with this film was to break down stereotypes of who poor people are, what they look like, what they sound like, and the best way to do that was just to let them talk," Midgett says. "As individuals, they're all so compelling, and have such unique perspectives, just the process of listening to them, in and of itself, breaks down stereotypes," Midgett continues. "Instead of thinking of 'poor people,' it becomes, 'oh, that’s Sheila, that’s John.' The more you know people by name, and know they're human beings, not statistics, the more it changes your heart."
Midgett says she was surprised by what a diverse cross-section of society her subjects represent—one of the most surprising things she learned while working on the film was that the rate of poverty in the suburbs is on the rise.
"I was not personally familiar with that info, so when I came across that, I said, 'whoa.' To see food pantries in these formerly strong middle-to-upper class neighborhoods, that really was shocking," she says. "The first [subject] in the film, John, he was a former president of a bank, and when the banking industry imploded, he got caught in that, and decided to make a career change to become a schoolteacher. His mom was a teacher, his grandmother—it was a noble profession and he felt drawn to it, but he wasn't able to find a full-time teaching job.
"He's in DuPage County, Illinois, one of wealthiest counties in the country—definitely in the Midwest—and he's feeding his three children with food from food pantries, living off of $12,000 per year. That was crazy for me—I went to Wheaton College in DuPage County, I know DuPage County as this very, very affluent community, and now the poverty rate there has skyrocketed, and all sorts of people are in [John's] position now."
Midgett hopes that, after the film's premiere tonight, communities will continue to share it, hold screenings at churches, and use it as a tool to discuss poverty going into the November elections and beyond. "The plan is to keep getting it out there, keep making it available to people, and hopefully people find it valuable and inspirational enough to keep sharing it," Midgett says.
The Line premieres at 8 p.m. ET tonight, at various church viewing parties scheduled around the country. Find one close to you here. If you'd like to host a screening after tonight, consider holding an adult forum and discussing the film along with the Circle of Protection presidential candidate videos. Contact your regional organizer for more information.
Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.
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