The Richest Country has Left Millions Out in the Cold: American Winter
By Tessa Farnsworth Curry
America is facing a problem and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. Since the Great Recession in 2008 11.7 million people are still unemployed, we have a current unemployment rate of 7.6 percent, and no one seems to be talking about it anymore.
“People get tired of hearing about it, but those people living in these circumstances are real and putting a face to these issues really helps you feel the heartbreak and feel how awful these situations are,” said Alexandra Lescaze, the Executive Director for the Sidney Hillman Foundation.
The Sidney Hillman Foundation honors excellence in journalism in service of the common good. They like to recognize and award the people who are bringing to light issues that are currently being glossed over by the general media, one of which being how millions of Americans have been left out in the cold in the richest country in the world.
One of their recent awardees includes Harry Gantz, the award winning documentary filmmaker of American Winter, a film that tells the stories of several families in Portland who were devastated by the recession.
“Poverty has been demonized since the Reagan administration,” said Gantz. “Now there’s this whole new wave of formerly middle class families who have fallen into poverty.”
Middle class families that had once been well-off dropped a class or two after the recession. People weren’t used to their neighbors and close friends struggling with poverty, Gantz explained. We stopped talking about the stories of these families because we would all bounce back, right?
Gantz, along with other documentary filmmakers, noticed the opportunity gap that is happening in America and how the Great Recession is still affecting millions of families, yet the conversation surrounding this topic is lacking. These filmmakers are using their greatest tools, stories and film, to change policy and help improve the lives of those struggling post-recession.
“We (America) want to put ourselves up on a high step, but we have all of the same problems as other countries,” said Travis Pitcher, co-founder of The Good Line, a documentary film company that also aims to tell the stories that others are not.
Both Pitcher and Gantz know films can tell stories and bring problems to light in a way that can produce change.
“Sometimes words and emotions can help break through policy deadlock,” said Gantz. “Appealing to people’s hearts can override their pragmatic positions.”
Gantz saw the opportunity to do this when he began the process of filming and creating his documentary American Winter. In order to make sure the film was successful and impactful, the filmmaker took two years to research, film, and edit the documentary.
Through the 211 system, a nationwide system through which people call if they need some type of social service (think hotline for help), Harry and Joe Gantz (Director) were able to get in contact with families in Portland that were struggling post-recession.
The filmmaker said that through this film he has created lasting friendships and relationships with these people.
“We are in constant contact with the families,” said Gantz. “The same way they would call 211, they call us and we chat.”
What was their recipe for putting together a compelling film? When deciding what to film and include in the documentary, the filmmakers would see where the day took them, rather than set up a solid plan. Gantz said they would talk with families, make a decision of where to go that day, and then do interviews to fill in the blanks in the story.
The film has resonated with many, proof of which can be found on the American Winter Facebook page. There are over 3,650 followers from around the country sharing their stories of loss, as well as sharing ways in which they can help donate their resources and time.
“We have to take this opportunity to reignite the war on poverty,” Gantz said.
The film premiered on March 18, 2013. It is now available for HBO subscribers as well as for the next several months on HBO Go.
(Photo Courtesy of American Winter)