By Justine Ashley Costanza | Women and Hollywood March 6, 2013 at 11:00AM
A Place At the Table is a riveting new documentary by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush that illustrates the mounting hunger crisis in the U.S.
The film is not only one of the most gripping non-fiction films to debut in some time, it's also one of the most important.
Women and Hollywood had the chance to talk to Jacobson and Silverbush about how audiences will perceive the film and the social action campaign that coincides with its release.
Women and Hollywood: Are you worried that some may appreciate A Place at the Table as a great film and not be moved to do something about the horrific circumstances that are depicted?
Kristi Jacobson: I think that as we've shown the film, we've seen people respond enthusiastically to it and the people that they meet in the film. But I think that what has struck me time and time again is people's feeling of empowerment and of wanting to act because the problem itself is solvable and within reach. We were really fortunate in the making of this film to have come across the 1968 documentary Hunger in America and that showed us that a piece of journalistic documentary could awaken an audience and get them to take action. This problem is vast and complicated and unspecific but at the same time we could look to history, and a film, with solutions that eradicated the problem. So, we're hopeful that people will also take that example with them when they leave the theater and recognize this is doable.
Lori Silverbush: As someone who loves documentaries, I think some of the greatest documentaries will present an issue and put it out there and then you're left as a viewer to say 'ok, what can I do now to help fix that?' That's a lot to ask and I think that by calling out the example that Kristi refers to of a previous film where viewers responded and picked up the phone en masse, and called their senators and said 'not in the United States of America. Unacceptable.' And as a consequence of that action, very complex and effective programs were put into place. So, I think that we make a strong case in this film for what someone should do, and how they should engage. The beautiful thing is that we're working with a company called Participant Media which has a real track record of taking on subjects and then putting the energy and the time and resources into a social action committee that gives people real things they can do to end the problem.
WaH: When you set out to make the film, did you know that you would also have a huge social campaign to go along with it?
Silverbush: We didn't know, but we certainly hoped that we would be able to do that. And some of our earliest conversations in getting the film off the ground was talking to people about our goals. We weren't looking to make a film to win ourselves awards. We were not looking to make a film that was going to be this interesting viewing experience and then be done. We really set out to make a film that was going to end the problem.
WaH: We were talking about the film Hunger in America that aired on CBS in 1968, which sparked a whole movement and social programs that were put into place in the 70s. In what ways can we modernize those programs today and solve this problem?
Jacobson: One of the most important things is that these programs are not addressing the current need, they're outdated. Oftentimes when someone who is receiving food stamps, first and foremost, it's not enough for them to feed their family through the month. But also when people are trying to lift themselves out of the situation and get a job, the benefits cut off immediately and drastically which ultimately have a negative impact as you saw in the film with Barbie. I think a very important piece of re-envisioning that safety net is to not penalize those who are trying to get out of poverty, and that most people don't want to be receiving government support. At the end of the day if we do re-envision and modernize the programs and adequately fund them there will ultimately be less government funds going towards these programs in the end.
WaH: I think a key is changing that whole mindset that some people are looking for a handout, or, that they're lazy, and feel that they don't need to work for things. Do you think that once people see this film perspectives will start to change?
Silverbush: No question about it, you can't meet the characters in our film and think you're looking at takers. You can't tell a policeman who has been working his whole life and helping as a public servant that he's a taker because his salary simply can’t meet the costs of feeding a family. So if our film does help to alter the mindset and the vocabulary, I think that will go a really long way. I think one of the reasons that this problem has been able to persist is that in a very calculated way, people who are working to shape the dialogue to be around takers and the 47% and that’s a mythology. But it's not working and it's actually costing all of us enormously. And everybody in this nation has something to gain from fixing it. So if we can help impact that language then this film is a success, but I actually think it can do a lot more than that.
To find out what you can do to help alleviate the hunger crisis in the U.S., visit www.takepart.com/table or text the word 'food' to 77177.
Justine Ashley Costanza is a film reporter who contributes to USA Today, SheKnows, and the Huffington Post. She is also an on-camera interviewer for sites like MovieWeb and Moviehole.