Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

34 posts categorized "Film"

Meet the Filmmakers of Finding North, a Documentary about Hunger in America

120309-FindingNorthA 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.

JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. Follow her on Twitter @jeanniechoi.


The Civil Wars: Raising Hunger Awareness with Song

120302-thecivilwarsGrammy Award winners The Civil Wars are receiving acclaim for their song with Taylor Swift, “Safe and Secure,” for the upcoming Hunger Games film, but many don't know that singing duo scored another film about hunger, the documentary Finding North, about hunger in America. [Stay tuned for my interview with the directors of Finding North, coming out Monday!]

In this interview below, Joy Williams and John Paul White, the artists behind The Civil Wars, talk about how they became involved in this groundbreaking documentary through the guidance of T Bone Burnett, one of the best producers in the music industry. “We could not have been more stoked about it,” John Paul White said.

It’s clear that hunger is an important issue for The Civil Wars. Joy Williams explains the importance of seeing a film like Finding North in order to understand the larger, systemic problems of hunger in America:

Forty-four million people go to bed hungry in America and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and so [Finding North] highlights food insecurity in the United States, which basically means food deserts where people literally don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. [The film] definitely puts a face to what I would consider an epidemic in the United States.

It’s refreshing to hear Williams talk about hunger so knowledgeably and it’s my hope that their involvement in the documentary will get more people to watch the film, learn about hunger, and begin advocating for poor and hungry people in their communities.

Watch the interview with The Civil Wars below:

JCHOI_SMWKNDJeannie Choi is associate editor at Bread for the World. Follow her on Twitter at @jeanniechoi.


+Learn how to advocate for poor and hungry people

Photo caption: Screenshot from Magnifier video.

"Our Job and Our Call"


20111030_ElMilagro_JudithVanOsdol_0342bThe little boy was wearing short sleeves in winter and his lips were turning blue. Pastor Judith VanOsdol was surprised, but not stunned. She knew why he wasn’t wearing a coat: The majority of her congregation at El Milagro Lutheran Church in Minneapolis is poor and food insecure.

“More people than we can realize fall between the cracks or are just under the line and find themselves in situations where they are unable to feed their families and the children,” she said. "When we are in a situation of economic insecurity I think it's easy to blame the most vulnerable. And for some odd reason we look there first to cut."

VanOsdol believes it’s important to advocate on behalf of poor and hungry people so that the federal programs that help them continue to help them. This is why she agreed to be filmed as part of our 2012 Offering of Letters campaign. Each year Bread for the World invites churches and groups across the country to write personal letters and emails to their members of Congress on issues that are important to hungry and poor people. These letters send a powerful message to our country's political leaders and help us as a nation move closer to our goal of ending hunger.

"It is indeed our job and our call to be a part of these processes and decisions and legislations and pieces of legislation," said VanOsdol. "And the persons who make those decisions need to hear from us."

Watch the video below to meet Judith VanOsdol and to learn how contacting our members of Congress is an effective way to advocate for poor and hungry people.

Photo caption: Judith VanOsdol, pastor of El Milagro Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, leads the noon service on Sunday, October 30, 2011. VanOsdol believes in advocating on behalf of hungry and poor people, many of whom make up the majority of her congregation. (Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

Laura-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauraepohl.

The Power of a Video

Ayleen Ferreras, 6, plays with a carrot from her school lunch at Rolling Terrace Elementary School in Takoma Park, MD, on April 26, 2011. Bread for the World supports strengthening child nutrition programs as an immediate and direct way to reduce child hunger and improve health and educational outcomes. (Screen grab from video by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

You love videos, right? So do we. Which is why we were excited when InterAction, an alliance of U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, asked to partner with us on a video highlighting Bread's work. We provided the film footage and photographs. My colleague Racine Tucker-Hamilton wrote the script. Then InterAction edited the video. Not a bad deal. We're pleased with the results and we hope you are, too. Also, be sure to check out the other InterAction partner videos with Mercy Corps, CARE and Concern America.

*Text corrected on February 27, 2012, to reflect the fact that Racine Tucker-Hamilton wrote the video script.

Laura-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. You can follow her on Twitter at @lauraepohl.


My Top 5 Humanitarian Photo Blogs

These women are part of a sewing/tailoring workshop at a family center run by MRDS.org in Sulaymaniyah, northern Iraq. (Copyrighted photo courtesy of Heber Vega)

If people remember a photograph, they are more likely to remember the issue or event that goes along with it. As a photographer, I try to take memorable and striking photos that will help our members remember the issues of  hunger and poverty.

But when it comes to photographing hunger and poverty-related issues, there's the added responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the people being photographed. It's what I aim for in my photography for Bread for the World, and it's what these photographers do well on their blogs.

Here are my top five humanitarian photo blogs, in no particular order:

  • Esther Havens is an American photographer whose work I first stumbled upon on the Charity:Water blog. Her vibrant pictures capture people's strength, dignity, and unique personalities. Some of her pictures are even funny -- which is rare in humanitarian photography -- as you can see in this blog post about Rwandan boys participating in an education and food program. Don't miss her post about the reality of working as a humanitarian photographer.
  • Glenna Gordon, an American photojournalist, shuttles between West Africa and New York, but used to live in Liberia, where she photographed for newspapers and NGOs. If you're looking for news and music from Africa, plus fresh photographs and introspective commentary about life in Africa, then you'll enjoy Glenna's blog, Scarlett Lion. Her photo story on Harper, Liberia, a decaying coastal town, is a must-see.
  • Heber Vega is a humanitarian aid worker-turned-photographer who has been based in Iraq since 2003. His blog is a mix of his own photography -- like this post on photographing women in a Muslim Country; interviews with other photographers; and advice on photographic techniques. One thing that impresses me about Heber, who's from Chile, has nothing to do with his pictures: he founded The ONE-SHOT Project, a nonprofit that teaches photography and multimedia skills to Iraqi children.
  • Photo Philanthropy is well-known in photography circles for promoting photography for social change. Every year since 2009, the organization has granted awards for the best humanitarian photo stories from professional and amateur photographers (full disclosure: I entered the contest in its first year and didn't win). The blog features pictures, interviews with Photo Philanthropy award winners and grantees, and opportunities for photographers to work with nonprofits.

If you know any other humanitarian photo blogs that you like to visit, please share them with us in the comments. And don't forget to check out Bread for the World's Flickr stream and the Bread Blog for beautiful photos and compelling stories.

(Copyrighted photo courtesy of Esther Havens)

Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World. 



Growing up with HIV in Romania

Screenshot from "First Generation: Growing up with HIV"

This video made me cry. Yes, right here in Bread's office, I cried -- not from sadness, but from hope.

Ion, the teenager profiled in this story, is spunky and energetic. In the opening sequence, he's dyeing his hair and breakdancing around a bedroom. He looks fun -- the kind of person you'd want to be friends with if you were in high school.

What you can't see -- and wouldn't know unless he told you -- is that he's an 18-year-old Romanian living with HIV. Ion's parents abandoned him when he was 1-year old. Like many Romanian children born around the time of the fall of Communism, he was infected in a hospital. Indeed, "the largest  age group of people living with HIV/AIDS is formed of  young  people (17-21) over 6,000, which are in fact the children  infected in the period 1987 – 1992," according to a 2010 UNAIDS report. For people like Ion, eating nutritious food to stay healthy is essential to batling HIV and AIDS.

"I'm fighting an enemy," says Ion. "And no matter how many pills I take, I might not win."

Watch the video below to learn more about Ion. See if you cry, too.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World.


Living in Hope: HIV/AIDS in Uganda and St. Francis Health Care Services

This red dirt road leads to St. Francis Health Care Services, an HIV/AIDS clinic in Jinja, Uganda, near the source of the Nile River.  (Video story at the end of this blog post.)

At the end of a red dirt road, near the source of the Nile River is St. Francis Health Care Services, an HIV/AIDS clinic serving some of the poorest people in Jinja District, Uganda. The power is out at the clinic, but no one is fazed.

The pharmacists continue to dispense medicine to their patients out of their small office, as sunlight streams through windows despite the drawn curtains. The medical assistants continue to diagnose patients, who wait their turn while sitting in blue plastic chairs in the hallway. And Faustine Ngarambe -- founder and executive director of St. Francis Health Care Services -- continues to work on plans to expand the clinic's programs, which serve about 600 people per week.

"HIV is not only a health issue; it’s economical, it is psychological, it is even a cultural taboo -- all of those things," said Ngarambe. He doesn't have a medical background, but in 2009, he won the Parliamentary HIV/AIDS Leadership Award from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

St. Francis offers its patients services that heal not only the body, but the mind as well: counseling, nutrition and agriculture education, financial assistance, support groups for young people and grandmothers, and more. It's this kind of holistic approach to HIV/AIDS care that has made Uganda an oft-cited role model for decreasing HIV/AIDS rates. HIV prevalence in Uganda is currently at 6 to 7 percent, according to a UNAIDS report released yesterday, down from about 14 percent in 1990, according to this UNAIDS study from 2010.

Ngarambe became interested in HIV/AIDS care in 1989 while working as a missionary in Kenya. A Ugandan friend was HIV positive, but wouldn't disclose his diagnosis; the stigma was too great.

"He was dying silently within himself," said Ngarambe. "And when he was brought back to Uganda for burial, even his parents did not even view the body."

When Ngarambe returned Uganda, he and four colleagues started St. Francis Health Care Services. The clinic has grown from just five staff members and no permanent facilities in 1998, to 37 staff members, 100 community volunteers, and two permanent treatment facilities in 2011.

In a grassy field near St. Francis's main building sits Ngarambe's latest project: A maternity ward -- half-finished and in need of more funding -- that will specialize in prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmision. The ward is a result of the United Nations designation of Uganda as one of 22 priority countries for eliminating mother-to-child transmission.

St. Francis receives financial support from local and international sources, including the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Nile Breweries, but finances -- as well as a lack of enough equipment, space, and staff -- are always a concern. In addition, The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said last week it will cut funding to several countries, including Uganda. This could hurt the nationwide effort to fight AIDS.

Still, Ngarambe presses forward.

"The thing that motivates me very much," he said, "is because I've touched peoples' lives and restored -- as our slogan -- restoring hope and dignity of the people who have been devastated by the HIV/AIDS epidemic."

Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World.


Teaching Vulnerable Children in Rural Zambia

Florence, left, teaches science at The Great Ones Pre-School in Mpika, Zambia. (Screen shot from the film "The Great Ones Pre-School")

The 11 young women who run The Great Ones Pre-School exemplify the old proverb, "Give a person a fish and they eat for a day. Teach a person to fish and they eat for life." Esnart, Naomi, and their colleagues grew up poor in rural Zambia. Many of them lost one or both parents, leaving their guardians struggling to pay school fees, according to this case study from the University of Pennsylvania. Then they received leadership and entrepreneurship training -- the ability to fish, so to speak -- from Camfed, an organization that educates and empowers girls to be leaders. They decided to open a pre-school for vulnerable children -- kids who lived just like they did years earlier -- and they now teach 52 students.

"A lot of people say that if you are poor, there is nothing you can do in the future," says Naomi, in the film below. "What I have learned is that even if you are poor, you can do something in your life. At least in the future, you can learn, and you can become somebody one day."

Watch the short video to learn more about The Great Ones Pre-School.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

  Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World.



Behind the Scenes: How We Found the Farmers for Our Short Film "In Short Supply"

Siblings Sherilyn Shepard (left) and Ricky Horton (right) are former tobacco farmers who now grow produce in Blackwater, VA. (Sherilyn photograph by Brad Horn for Bread for the World, Ricky photograph by Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World.)

One of the hardest parts of creating a short film such as "In Short Supply" -- Bread for the World's companion video story to the 2012 Hunger Report -- is finding the right people to be in it. Unless you're a wanna-be reality star, who wants cameras following them around in their daily lives? That's why knowing a trusted insider -- someone who's trusted by both you (the storyteller) and the potential people who could be in your story -- is key.

In the case of "In Short Supply," Bread's trusted insider was Robin Robbins, the food safety and marketing manager at Appalachian Harvest, an organization that helps small farmers market and distribute their organic produce. Robin and I met back in April when my colleague, Todd Post, and I traveled down to southwestern Virginia to report on Appalachian Harvest's operations. Robin showed us around the organization's packing house (which you can see in the video story below), explained their processes, and took us out to her own farm. She even gave Todd and me fragrant little pots of basil, rosemary, and stevia from her greenhouse.

Screen shot of Robin Robbins, Appalachian Harvest's food safety and marketing manager, who was instrumental in helping Bread for the World identify Sherilyn Shepard and Ricky Horton for our short film "In Short Supply."

A few months later, when I wanted to film a story about small farmers, I contacted Robin to help me. She's a real firecracker who gets things done. I needed a very specific kind of person to be in the video story, so I explained to Robin what I was looking for and why. As a filmmaker, it's important for me to explain the "why" part, because often people who don't work as visual storytellers might not understand all the research and mechanics that go into producing a good visual story. For example, when I film or photograph a story, I need people to actually be doing things -- like picking tomatoes or driving a tractor -- so that I have compelling photos and video. It's not interesting to film or photograph people talking about what it's like to pick tomatoes or drive a tractor. Also, capturing real moments as they happen requires spending a lot of time with people.

I emailed Robin in mid-July and asked if she knew a farmer who we could spend nearly all of our time documenting. I told her the person would need to be:

*   A former tobacco farmer who used to receive government subsidies
*   A person who generates a substantial income from growing produce
*   A person who's involved with ASD [Appalachian Sustainable Development, the parent organization for Appalachian Harvest]
*   A person who will be doing actual work on his/her farm while we're there
*   A person who is articulate and open and not afraid or shy around cameras
*   Preferably a person with a family - spouse/partner and kids (to show interaction with other people)

Robin, being the rock star she is, found three farmers who fit the bill. My colleague Molly Marsh, freelancer Brad Horn, and I drove down to Duffield, VA, on July 22 and met the farmers that night in Appalachian Harvest's packing house. Robin came in and out of our informal meeting since she was busy grading produce and packing it for distribution. The rest of us sat around a table getting to know each other.

Afterwards, Molly, Brad, and I decided Ricky Horton and his sister Sherilyn Shepard would be wonderful people for our short film. We asked, they accepted, and then Molly, Brad, and I spent most of the next several days filming, photographing, and recording audio of Ricky and Sherilyn's daily lives. We stood in wet cucumber fields and climbed on tractors. We learned about pink eye in cows and water damage to tomatoes. I feel we all came to a mutual understanding and respect for each others' work; spending a week together can do that for you.

What makes Ricky and Sherilyn great characters for this story is their down-to-earthness, and their frank way of explaining things. One of my favorites parts of the film is when Ricky says, "It takes work to grow vegetables. It's more or less just a living thing like you are: It's got its ups and downs, and has its good times and bad times." What a great comparison. You and I -- we're just like tomatoes or cucumbers!

I'm grateful that Ricky, Sherilyn, their families, and their employees allowed us into their lives. When you watch the video, it's one week of life compressed into 12-and-a-half minutes. But really, the story began back in April, with my visit to Appalachian Harvest and a meeting with Robin Robbins, a trusted insider.

Laura-elizabeth-pohlLaura Elizabeth Pohl is multimedia manager at Bread for the World.


Changing Children's Futures in Georgia

Tornike Shubitidze of Georgia wants to be a cameraman.

Being a kid can be tough, especially in the country of Georgia, where the absence of a juvenile justice system means a crime like theft can land a teenager in jail for four to seven years. That's the sentence 15-year-old Tornike Shubitidze faced recently for stealing a washing machine.

But under a juvenile reform program supported by UNICEF, Shubitidze received probation and now attends filmmaking classes. This is good for many reasons, one of them being that research from the United States shows clear links between incarceration and poverty. Shubitidze now wants to be a cameraman.

"First of all, I will certainly buy a camera. I will spend more time to learn," he says in the ViewChange video below. "I'll work more and try to become a cameraman."

Learn more about Shubititdze and Georgia's juvenile reform program in the video below.

This story is part of our Wednesday ViewChange video series.

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