Sundance 2012: 'Finding North' looks at hunger in America
The Sundance Film Festival is chock full of documentaries this year about the troubles besetting America, with movies examining the shortcomings of the war on drugs (Eugene Jarecki's "The House I Live In"), the problems with the healthcare system ("Escape Fire") and the ability of corporations to evade taxation ("We're Not Broke"). But "Finding North" may rank among the most moving (or disheartening, depending on your viewpoint) in that it tackles a seemingly straightforward, solvable problem: hunger in the United States.
Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson share directing and producing credits on the documentary, which focuses on three main characters: Rosie, an endearing fifth-grader from a small town in Colorado whose family relies on handouts; Tremonica, an overweight second-grader from Mississippi whose poor diet is leading to health problems, and Barbie Izquierdo, 24, a mother of two struggling valiantly to put food on the table in Philadelphia.
"Finding North" forcefully makes the case that hunger has serious economic, social and cultural implications for the nation. Examining everything -- including federal subsidies for agribusiness, how much Uncle Sam pays to provide school lunches for poor kids, and the lack of fruits and vegetables in many poor communities -- the movie argues vehemently for greater government spending on food stamps and childhood nutrition programs, a shift in subsidy programs away from sugar and starch crops and toward fresh produce, and a "living wage" so the working poor can afford to feed themselves.
Although the filmmakers give a big shout-out to the religious and charitable organizations that provide many hungry Americans with hot meals and pantry handouts, the movie argues that charity alone will never solve the hunger problem -- which they say affects 49 million Americans (1 in 7).
Silverbush said she was inspired to make the film for two reasons: (a) her husband, "Top Chef" Tom Colicchio, had spent years working on anti-hunger and childhood nutrition initiatives, and yet the problem continued to grow and (b) an adolescent girl she was mentoring was struggling with hunger.
"I realized she was hungry, and it was messing up her life," Silverbush recalled after the film's premiere Sunday night in Park City, Utah. "Her school called and said she was scavenging for food."
Silverbush, whose experience is in fictional films, floated the idea to Jacobson, who had experience in the documentary world, and they decided to embark on the project together. Filming started in 2008, but the two encountered doubts amid the election of Barack Obama.
"We thought at one time, 'Do we still have a story to tell, now that Obama has been elected?'" Silverbush recalled. "But the landscape has changed [with the ongoing economic malaise]. People are no longer seeing the hungry as 'the other.' People in this country are realizing that they too could be one injury, or one mortgage payment, away from hunger."
The pair have teamed with Participant Media to begin a social action campaign around the issue, including outreach to schools, churches, synagogues and hunger organizations in urban and rural communities, as well as lobbying of legislators.
"We are both really committed to the idea that this film has an impact," Jacobson said.
-- Julie Makinen in Park City, Utah
Photo: Rosie, a fifth-grader from Colorado who struggles with hunger in "Finding North." Credit: Sundance Film Festival