TCFF Coverage: Preview Night of A Place At The Table

It’s becoming a tradition of sort that TCFF kicks off the film fest with a documentary about an important subject. Our first year we have the education-themed Waiting for Superman, the second year we screened Bully which tackles the topic of peer-to-peer bullying in schools across America. This year is no different, A Place At the Table, which takes a look at America’s hunger crisis. It debuted at Sundance under the name Finding North, and Magnolia Pictures has recently acquired the US rights to distribute the powerful documentary from Participant Media, directed by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush.

TCFF is more than just about films. Each year, executive director Jatin Setia looks for a relevant topic for the film fest to focus on, and he was adamant to showcase A Place At The Table when he saw it at Sundance. Thanks to his and fellow organizers’ persistence, we not only have the film premiere here, but also present an Education Panel discussing this ever-so-important topic. Moderated by MPR reporter Julie Siple, the panelists last evening includes Lori Kratchmer, executive director of the Emergency Food Shelf; Jackie Olafson, executive director of St. Louis Park Emergency Program; Rob Zeaski, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland; and last but definitely not least, Lori Silverbush, co-director of A Place at the Table.

To say it was an eye-opening discussion is putting it mildly. It’s interesting how when people hear the word ‘hunger’ they immediately think of malnourished kids with flies hovering around them in Africa. But the fact of the matter is, hunger strikes even here in America. The documentary shows that one in four children here in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and the panelists expand a little bit what that means and what people might not know is contributing to that very problem.

“Fifty million Americans – that’s not a fringe, that’s not the screw-ups, that’s not the people you probably have in your head as the hungry people – 50 million Americans have to wonder, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, how they’re going to get food on the table for their families. And that’s energy they’re not devoting to their work, to parenting, to their communities. It’s a great drain.”  – Lori Silverbush (quote from MPR article by Julie Siple)

L to R: Julie Siple, Lori Silverbush, Jackie Olafson, Lori Kratchmer, Doug Peterson and Rob Zeaske

I’m very impressed with director Lori Silverbush, she’s very knowledgeable about her subject matter, and she’s got such strong convictions about what she thinks contributed to the problem in the first place and she’s not afraid to let it be known. It really shows in the film as well, it’s a well-crafted documentary that follows various families across America who are dealing with hunger, and also includes interviews from leading hunger experts such as Stuffed and Starved author Raj Patel, Sweet Charity? author Janet Poppendieck, actor Jeff Bridges, Top Chef’s Tom Colicchio, as well as Congressman James McGovern who’ve taken a leadership role in the fight against hunger at home and abroad.

Silverbush shared that the problem of hunger carries such a great stigma, she saw as she made the film that people all often too ashamed to even go to the food shelter, and some families can’t even bear the thought of getting food stamps.

“One of our biggest surprises in making the film is that hardworking people, people who are playing by all the rules, and absolutely fulfilling their end of the social contract as most people would describe it, are still not able to get by,”

I will post the video of the panel as it becomes available, but I really urge you to see this documentary when it opens in your cities. This is easily one of the best documentaries I’ve seen, right up there with one of my favorite, The Cove in terms of entertainment + insight level. Even though it covers a bleak topic, it’s presented in such a way that it’s not at all tedious. Right from the opening sequence with gorgeous aerial shots, the cinematography is beautiful. The transitions from one family and another, alternating it with various interviews, are done seamlessly that it doesn’t feel jarring or jumpy.

Review from TCFF blogger Emery Thoresen:

Between the Education Panel before and the Director Q & A after the screening, the message was communicated; we need to change how our country deals with food – especially in the school systems. The word “politics” was repeated over and over, and if that is where the blame lies, it is our job to take the initiative and do our part; contact our representatives and vote in the right direction in this upcoming election.

The cause is noble, the issues are presented clearly, but there weren’t solid solutions given that would have sure results. The director did speak about what we should do in terms of politics, but she went on to discuss the issues with food charities. The major conglomerates that back many of the well known food organizations distribute their own food, which generally consist of empty calories. Its a self perpetuating situation; people are malnourished, they seek help, and the help that they receive provides in the most minimal way.

Aside from the shocking statistics and real life testimony, the most memorable part of the night was one of the directors, Lori Silverbush. Her partner in crime (Kristi Jacobson) was not present for the screening, but I can only imagine what the two women would be like in the same room. Lori was extremely eloquent and nothing that came out of her mouth was fluff. During the Education Panel and Questioning after the screening she answered all the questions without being redundant or spoiling the ending.

Documentary films are not my forte, but what I saw was worth it. Pretty scenery, good testimonies (Jeff Bridges is far from being the focal point), and clear presentation.

There are more great films playing at TCFF. Get your tickets now!

TCFF organizers Jatin Setia, Naomi Dahlgren and Bill Cooper with Lori Silverbush

Thank you Lori Silverbush for presenting such a well-crafted documentary that covers such a crucial topic, and TCFF’s Jatin Setia & co. for bringing this film to the premiere!!

Spotlight on five great documentaries – and they’re all playing at TCFF!

Woo hoo!!! Today is the day. 9 Days. 60 Films. 25 Events. From today all the way to next Saturday the 20th, this is the place to be for film lovers in the Upper Midwest!

Have you gotten your tickets yet? They are selling fast, in fact when I went to the SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRE in St. Louis Park, the seats are really picked over so don’t delay. You can buy them online but you still have to reserve your seats at the ticket booth.

I’ve blogged about some of the films I’m super excited about, but I wanted to talk about the documentaries specifically, as two years in a row TCFF has kicked off the film fest with a documentary, last year with the education-themed Waiting For Superman. Before I get to the list, check out the TCFF documentary promo, hosted by Minnesota-based filmmaker Joanna Kohler:

A Place At the Table – Friday, Oct 12 6pm

A Place At The Table is an important documentary every Americans should see. As the woman in the trailer says, hunger doesn’t just happen in Africa, but right in our neighborhood. It’s heartbreaking to hear that one in four children here in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from, and this happens despite our country having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all its people.

The documentary features Jeff Bridges, who apparently is closely-connected to this subject matter as he’s the founder of the End Hunger Network. It also features celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, one of the judges on Bravo’s Top Chef who also happens to be co-director Lori Silverbush’s husband. Silverbush herself will be at the educational panel before the event.

Proceeds from this event will also benefit the Second Harvest Heartland, Food Emergency Shelf, and STEP (St. Louis Park Emergency Program).

American Autumn: An Occudoc – Thursday, Oct 18 2:45pm

It’s been over a year since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, and this provocative documentary chronicles the early days of this Occupy movement and how it’s gaining momentum.

The review from the NY Times says that “… [director] Dennis Trainor Jr. offers a concise review of the protests that first encamped in Zuccotti Park then swept across the nation and around the world.” Everyone sure has an opinion about the economic inequality problem in America, and this film offers an array of facts and figures on such subjects.

Narrated by Trainor, the documentary features speeches and interviews from filmmaker Michael Moore, Dr. Cornel West (Princeton University), comic/author/activist Lee Camp, journalists Nathan Schneider (Harper’s, The Nation) and Naomi Klein (The Nation) and more.

After I Pick the Fruit – Saturday, October 20 12:45pm

Another hot topic you’ve likely been hearing all over the news is immigration. Even though I’m an immigrant myself, this film is likely to resonate with me. Nancy Ghertner directs a film that follows the lives of five immigrant farm worker women over a ten-year period as they labor in the apple orchards and fields of rural western New York, migrate seasonally to Florida, raise their families, and try to hide from the Bush-era immigration raids that were conducted in response to September 11, 2001.

Filmed across the United States and Mexico, this intimate, bittersweet, feature-length film illuminates a community that is nearly invisible to most Americans, and will change the way you look at our national immigration problem.

Bay of All Saints – Saturday, Oct 20 10:45 am

The winner of Audience Award for Documentary at SXSW 2012, director Annie Eastman explored the lives of impoverished families living in palafitas, shacks built on stilts over the ocean bay in Bahia, Brazil. In an SXSW interview posted by Indiewire, Eastman shared that in college, she discovered Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art from the slave culture of Brazil, which somehow led her to make this film. She revealed that the story spans 7 years, 12 trips to Brazil and 20 weeks of editing.

Bay of All Saints is a lyrical portrait of three single-mothers living in the water slums during this crisis. Their individual stories of poverty unfold through visits from Norato, their big-hearted refrigerator repairman, born and raised in the palafitas. As these women rise to fight for their future, they begin to see the bay in a whole new light.

Call Me Kuchu –  Saturday, October 13 10:25 pm

Kato with the ‘Call Me Kuchu’ filmmakers

The term “Kuchu” is the word LGBT Ugandans use to refer to themselves, though some regards it as derogatory. US-based filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worral explores the struggles of the LGBT community in Uganda, as the government is working on a bill that would make homosexuality a crime punishable by life imprisonment, even death. It would even go as far as persecute those who fail to report known homosexuals to authorities.

The film features David Kato, a Ugandan teacher known as the country’s first openly gay man who fought against the homophobic laws, as well interviews with as other members of the LGBT community. It’s heartbreaking what happened to Kato, whose life came to a tragic end in January 2011 before the film even premiered. This is religious extremes at its worst… no matter what one’s view is about homosexuality, there is absolutely no justification for what the government is doing to their own people.

Call Me Kuchu has won several awards at various Film Festivals, including the Best International Feature Award at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

Thoughts on any of these docs? Which one(s) caught your interest?