There’s a lot of surprising facts on display in the new documentary A Place at the Table, a film focused on the shocking amount of people who are food insecure in the United States of America. Starting off of the startling premise that one in five children in America don’t know where their next meal is coming from, filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush set out to document the hidden struggle going on in this country and show just how easy this could be solved, if only people were to actually demand it. The goal here is to erase the misconception that hunger is the type of problem that will always exist. In this effort, Jacobson employ the likes of Jeff Bridges, T-Bone Burnett, and Tom Colicchio (among others) to raise awareness and hopefully push politicians to act.
The documentary tugs at your heartstrings a lot, but it’s never dour and wise interweaves facts, politics, and statistics along with the emotion, and the end result is a small doc that’s much more important than you’d initially think. By taking a look at one of the worst and yet most solvable problems in America, the filmmakers have managed to craft the type of film that very well could spur the public to act. That doesn’t always happen, but when a movie can elicit change, it’s just a beautiful thing. This isn’t a perfect doc, but it’s a very well made one with a cause that’s more than worth fighting for.
According to the doc, the United States is one of the worst of the major nations on the planet in terms of feeding its citizens. The filmmakers put forward the fact that much of our hunger problem is due to politics and a lack of public will to act. Legislation aimed at curbing food insecurity is often watered down and without a rallying cry from the people, elected officials have no reason to change the status quo. The film shows us some horrific facts, such as one that stats more than 17 million kids in America live in homes where putting food on the table is a struggle. Another reveals that nearly half of all citizens on Food Stamps are children, not the so-called “takers” that were shamed during the last presidential election. By tying this issue into the fact that kids who are hungry don’t do well in school, the directors are hoping to change the public perception and elicit change. If food insecurity becomes a recognized problem and a priority for voters, America will once again be able to eliminate the issue of hunger.
There’s plenty of talking heads on display here, with actor Jeff Bridges and chef Tom Colicchio the most notable (the aforementioned T-Bone Burnett provided the music), but we also have politicians like James McGovern as well as normal citizens struggling to feed either themselves of their offspring. Bridges especially has been involved in this crusade for decades and the film documents that for a bit. It also shows us just how a bill intended to help with this problem was systematically picked apart and left for dead before being passed as a shell of its former self. Nothing here is groundbreaking, but all of it is upsetting and done with the goal of educating and propelling the agent of change.
Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush aren’t trying to reinvent the documentary wheel here, so you’re not getting anything flashy, but they do know how to present you with a lot of facts in such a way that never lets you drown in them. They’re also quite capable of bringing you close to tears, but they always know when to pull back. This easily could have wound up an incredibly bleak story, and while not every person we meet gets a happy ending, Jacobson and Silverbush know how to strike the right balance. The wrong filmmakers could have ruined this, but they were the right ones for the job.
It’s far too early to think about the contenders for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars next year, but if A Place at the Table catches on in the coming weeks, I could see it winding up on a short list. It’s hardly concerned with that though, as it’s singularly interested in ending hunger in the United States. Overall, this is a very solid documentary that raises awareness for a cause that certainly deserves more attention than it has received so far. Much like Bully (2012) last year and ‘Waiting for Superman’ prior to that, this flick is going to try to tie in the cinematic experience with a Social Action Campaign. I do hope that it’s successful, since this is a good doc and one well worth your time. If you need a break from studio offerings being dumped in these early months, this is something to check out.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!