Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: A Place at the Table

Hunger in America, seen through the eyes of its victims, with an emphasis on children. Sobering documentary addresses a shameful problem.

March 1, 2013

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372448-Place_Table_Review_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

No one should be hungry in this, the world's richest nation. Yet by some estimates, fifty million Americans don't have enough to eat. That's one out of every six people. Why hunger remains so prevalent is the focus of A Place at the Table, an earnest, well-researched documentary that unfortunately will be too easy for most to overlook.

Co-directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush cover a lot of territory: food deserts, junk calories, unfair farm subsidies, the link between hunger and obesity, food insecurity, supplemental assistance programs, income inequality. The film delivers most of its statistics through graphics and talking heads, in this case authors, doctors and activists, along with celebrities like Jeff Bridges and chef Tom Colicchio (Silverbush’s husband).

To back up their statistics, the filmmakers focus on three case studies. Rosie is a fifth-grade student in the rural town of Collbran, Colorado. She and many of her neighbors rely heavily on a food bank and kitchen run by a local church. What were once considered emergency programs have become a part of the community.

In Philadelphia, single mom Barbie Izquierod tries to raise two young children on food stamps. Hunger has already affected her son's physical and mental development. When Izquierod lands a full-time job, she earns too much to qualify for food stamps, and loses her subsidized child care as well.

Mississippi has the highest rate of food insecurity in the country, and also the highest rate of obesity. Tremonica, a second-grader, is overweight and suffers from asthma. During a check-up, she admits to a medical worker that she had no breakfast, but instead ate chips and pop. With no local supermarkets, many parents can't find fruits and vegetables, which are more expensive than junk food anyway.

It's been almost five years since Robert Kenner's documentary Food, Inc. and close to fifty since the landmark CBS documentary "Hunger in America," yet the problems they addressed persist. A Place at the Table does a good job at summarizing the issues at stake. But it is less successful at finding causes or solutions for them.

This may be due in part to the filmmakers' approach to the material. Like An Inconvenient Truth, Jacobson and Silverbush adopt a calm, reasoned tone, as if logic, common sense and a few animated charts could effect change. A Place at the Table seems cautious, as if the filmmakers didn't want to offend viewers. Even the soundtrack of NPR-friendly Americana feels soothing.

Occasionally a glint of anger emerges. During a Congressional hearing, Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, chides a senator who wants to know how to pay for the Food Nutrition Act: "You fund your priorities." Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, blames hunger on poverty, not a shortage of food. To him the real question should be, "Why are people poor?"

The answer to that may be beyond the scope of A Place at the Table. But surely agribusiness, the advertising industry, and a Congress that legislates for the wealthy deserve more than passing mentions. It's too easy to resist A Place at the Table, too easy to ignore its findings. We've been ignoring them all along.



Film Review: A Place at the Table

Hunger in America, seen through the eyes of its victims, with an emphasis on children. Sobering documentary addresses a shameful problem.

March 1, 2013

-By Daniel Eagan


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372448-Place_Table_Review_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

No one should be hungry in this, the world's richest nation. Yet by some estimates, fifty million Americans don't have enough to eat. That's one out of every six people. Why hunger remains so prevalent is the focus of A Place at the Table, an earnest, well-researched documentary that unfortunately will be too easy for most to overlook.

Co-directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush cover a lot of territory: food deserts, junk calories, unfair farm subsidies, the link between hunger and obesity, food insecurity, supplemental assistance programs, income inequality. The film delivers most of its statistics through graphics and talking heads, in this case authors, doctors and activists, along with celebrities like Jeff Bridges and chef Tom Colicchio (Silverbush’s husband).

To back up their statistics, the filmmakers focus on three case studies. Rosie is a fifth-grade student in the rural town of Collbran, Colorado. She and many of her neighbors rely heavily on a food bank and kitchen run by a local church. What were once considered emergency programs have become a part of the community.

In Philadelphia, single mom Barbie Izquierod tries to raise two young children on food stamps. Hunger has already affected her son's physical and mental development. When Izquierod lands a full-time job, she earns too much to qualify for food stamps, and loses her subsidized child care as well.

Mississippi has the highest rate of food insecurity in the country, and also the highest rate of obesity. Tremonica, a second-grader, is overweight and suffers from asthma. During a check-up, she admits to a medical worker that she had no breakfast, but instead ate chips and pop. With no local supermarkets, many parents can't find fruits and vegetables, which are more expensive than junk food anyway.

It's been almost five years since Robert Kenner's documentary Food, Inc. and close to fifty since the landmark CBS documentary "Hunger in America," yet the problems they addressed persist. A Place at the Table does a good job at summarizing the issues at stake. But it is less successful at finding causes or solutions for them.

This may be due in part to the filmmakers' approach to the material. Like An Inconvenient Truth, Jacobson and Silverbush adopt a calm, reasoned tone, as if logic, common sense and a few animated charts could effect change. A Place at the Table seems cautious, as if the filmmakers didn't want to offend viewers. Even the soundtrack of NPR-friendly Americana feels soothing.

Occasionally a glint of anger emerges. During a Congressional hearing, Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, chides a senator who wants to know how to pay for the Food Nutrition Act: "You fund your priorities." Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved, blames hunger on poverty, not a shortage of food. To him the real question should be, "Why are people poor?"

The answer to that may be beyond the scope of A Place at the Table. But surely agribusiness, the advertising industry, and a Congress that legislates for the wealthy deserve more than passing mentions. It's too easy to resist A Place at the Table, too easy to ignore its findings. We've been ignoring them all along.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Expedition to the End of the World
Film Review: Expedition to the End of the World

Artful doc provokes thought on a variety of subjects. More »

Winter in the Blood
Film Review: Winter in the Blood

An honorable if only intermittently satisfying attempt to access a journey that takes place almost entirely inside the protagonist's head. More »

Rabindranath Tagore
Film Review: Rabindranath Tagore: The Poet of Eternity

This lovingly intended but technically amateurish doc fails to do justice to its important subject. More »

Love is Strange
Film Review: Love is Strange

Ira Sachs’ sublimely told and beautifully acted contemporary romantic drama about an aging gay Manhattan couple hitting some unexpected choppy waters is the flip side of his dark, raw and daring Keep the Lights On but every bit as engaging. John Lithgow and Alfred Molina add complexity and class to a classy production that should resonate with quality-seeking filmgoers, gay or straight. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Expendables 3
Film Review: The Expendables 3

Third go-round for the aging mercenaries, this time fighting a ruthless arms dealer. Sylvester Stallone's B-movie formula is wearing thin. More »

The Giver
Film Review: The Giver

Another bleakly perfect future-world, another teen hero who challenges the status quo. Is this long-gestating project too late to the party? More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here