Thursday, 19 April 2012

FINDING NORTH - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto Hot Docs Film Festival 2012 - Must-See #4

Finding North (2012) dir. Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush


By Greg Klymkiw
"It’s really all about patriotism. Do we envision a country where one in four kids are hungry?” - Jeff Bridges, Oscar-winning actor and founder of The End Hunger Network.
"The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business." - Chris Hedges
49 million American citizens have, at any given moment, no idea where their next meal is coming from. Many of those affected by hunger are children. The rates of unemployment and poverty are skyrocketing. So too is obesity and Type 2 diabetes - especially amongst children.

In Finding North, the important feature documentary by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, a genuinely intelligent little girl sadly explains how poorly she is doing in school because she is so tired all the time.

AND hungry!

She has four siblings. Counting her parents, she is part of a family numbering seven. Their yearly income is just over $28,000 and GOD BLESS AMERICA, they do not qualify for government hunger assistance as they are making slightly more than the allowable maximum.

This film slams you in the gut - time and time again.

Bearing witness to a small town law enforcement officer was one of several instances in the picture that both saddened and enraged me. His job has been collapsed from the toil of three people into that of one. He's not only visibly exhausted, but because he has not had a living wage increase in years, he is forced to use a church-operated food bank in order to feed himself and his family.

The cinematic litany of wrenching emotion is evocatively rendered and delivers maximum impact where it counts - firstly on an emotional level and then as a call to action.

In this film I watched - trembling with a mixture of rage and compassion - as a young, intelligent woman tries desperately to feed her children nutricious food, to break the cycle of poverty and poor nutrition she herself suffered as a child, to go to university or college to better her situation and to get a job - to make something resembling a life for herself and her family. Then, when she does get a job and we see the new brightness in her face, the spring in her step and the feeling that she is, once again a contributor to society, the feelings of rage melt away and are replaced with a sense of hope.

This, alas, doesn't last for long. The wage is too low to provide adequate nutrition and yet, it's a few dollars higher than the amount allowed for food stamps which would allow for good quality food. What does this woman get for getting a job and leaving welfare behind? Another slap in the face from the government that only gives a shit about feathering the nests of its representatives and supporters.

Here my own thoughts turned to the notion of striking back. Just as quickly, though, the film - like any great documentary - attempts to find balance in the outrage it causes. We see a group of hungry mothers taking their plight to Washington. At last, people listen. Empowerment infuses the souls of these poverty stricken women. So to, do we the audience, feel an uplift.

Not for long.

The filmmakers might even want us to believe this form of citizen-based lobbying and activism is the best thing to do, but no matter how they might have wanted to spin this positively, the cameras do not lie. I watched, enraged, as one well-meaning politician after another delivers words of agreement and encouragement, their faces revealing only resulting ineffectuality, their words, seemingly truthful, but ultimately hollow.

The subsequent actions are even more infuriating. The money for an additional food subsidy comes from an already existing budget for food subsidy. This is the result, in spite of millions upon billions upon trillions of dollars dumped into corporate bailouts, military spending and worst of all, huge subsidies to corporate farming interests to generate cheap food product to yield cheap, unhealthy processed crap to keep the nation poor, hungry, stupid and subservient and to ensure even huger profit margins for the rich. Impassioned lobbying on behalf of regular folk inspires the government to rob Peter to pay Paul.

Or in this case, they steal from the poor to give to the poor. Christ, it reminds me of the Monty Python "Dennis Moore" sketch where the hero stole from the poor to give to the rich. (And to the poor, he gave lupins.)

These are but some of the real stories on view in Finding North. The film focuses upon these tales of hunger in America and punctuates the proceedings with a mesmerizing series of interviews, archival footage and salient stats and facts. The film moves with the pace of shark in deep water and attacks its subject with equal precision. Beautifully shot and edited, the craft here is of a very high level. We not only get great music from T Bone Burnett and the Civil Wars, but entertaining, fervent and very cool appearances by Tom Colicchio AND Jeff Bridges.

This is a slick, passionate and important picture. It needs to be seen by more than just the "converted".

Something MUST be done.

We can't trust the government to do the right thing.

We need to do it ourselves.

This film could be the call to action we all need - to inspire us not to take it anymore, to change the world. (And a note to Canadians: Let's stop being so goddamned polite and complacent whilst we snobbishly proclaim, "Well, that's in America. We're Canadian!" We're not immune to anything happening in this movie. We are, after all, governed by a psychopathic ideologue and his own army of inbred, gun-toting, bible-thumping, creationist versions of the Tea Party.)

See this movie! Recommend it to everyone - even people you love who might even be inbred, gun-toting, bible-thumping creationists. Maybe, just maybe, they too have it in them to say "Enough is enough!"

At least you can begin discourse where it counts - at a grass-roots level.

"Finding North" is playing Tue, May 1 7:00 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre, Thu, May 3 1:00 PM at Isabel Bader Theatre and Sat, May 5 1:30 PM at the The ROM Theatre at Toronto's Hot Docs Film Festival. For tickets, visit the Hot Docs site HERE. Visit the Jeff Bridges End Hunger network HERE.