Screening at the Landmark Mayan Theatre through March 7, 2013, then moving to the Sie FilmCenter.
What does hunger in America look like? In the film "A Place at the Table," it looks like Colorado, where the filmmakers found Collbran, a tiny town that is working hard to feed its people and reduce the stigma of seeking help.
The filmmakers spent about a year getting to know the people of Collbran, and filming their stories. About 45 minutes from Grand Junction, near the Powderhorn ski resort, residents of this town of about 350 speak candidly about the challenges of running a ranch, stocking a food pantry, teaching fifth-graders and getting enough to eat.
The star of the movie is Rosie, a fifth-grader completely lacking in the artifice of so many on-screen kids — she's the polar opposite of Honey Boo-Boo. She describes in a matter-of-fact way how she visualizes her teacher (also in the film) as a banana when hunger causes her concentration to wander in class.
Her teacher, Leslie Nichols, noticed. While teachers aren't necessarily trained to look for the signs of hunger, they know when a student is struggling. "You notice it as soon as you walk into the classroom, paleness, lethargy, you start to tune in to those things," Nichols said in an interview prior to the film's Friday premiere.
Nichols recognized her own childhood experiences with food insecurity: "It creates not just obvious health problems, but low self-esteem. I constantly had the feeling of being inferior to others. I remember going to the grocery store and the minute it came time for checkout, my brother and I would pretend we were looking at candy or magazines because my mom had the food coupon booklets and there she was trying to count and tear them out, and give them to the checker.
Nichols and pastor Bob Wilson understand the importance of making it OK to ask for help. Nichols helps distribute groceries from the food pantry at the Plateau Valley Assembly of God church, where Wilson also runs a free after-school program.
"You wouldn't pick Rosie out and say, 'she's hungry,' " said Wilson, taking a break from his child-care duties last week. "People say 'how can this be happening in our community' with total disbelief, absolute amazement that there are those kinds of needs here, and that this is going on everywhere."
Co-directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson hope to convert that disbelief into action with "A Place at the Table." It's playing at the Mayan through Thursday, the Sie Film Center Friday through March 14, and is available through On Demand and iTunes. More info: takepart.com/place-at-the-table
Kristen Browning-Blas: 303-954-1440, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/krisbb
• 1 in 6 Americans, 50 million, is food insecure, which means uncertain of having, or unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all household members.
• 1 in 4 American children, 17 million, is food insecure
• 85 percent of families that are food insecure have at least one working adult it the household.
• 44 million Americans are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. To qualify, the income for a family of 4 cannot exceed $29,000 per year. One out of every 2 kids in The United States at some point in their childhood will be on food assistance.
• The average food stamp benefit is under $5 a day.
• In 1980, there were 200 food banks in the U.S. Today, there are over 40,000 food banks, soup kitchens and pantries.
• 50 million Americans rely on charitable food programs.
Source: "A Place at the Table"
The stories behind the movie
The child: Rosie
In the film, Rosie is a fifth-grader in Collbran, where she still lives. Now, two years after filming, her mom has a full-time job and they moved out of the home they shared with her grandparents. In the movie, she says:
"Sometimes we run out of food so we try to figure out something, probably ask friends for food. We get really hungry, and our tummies just growl and sometimes I feel like I'm going to barf 'cause it feels bad. I don't really know what to do.
"I struggle a lot, and most of the time it's because my stomach is really hurting. My teacher tells me to get focused and she told me to write 'focus' on my little sticker and every time I look at it and I'm like 'oh I'm supposed to be focusing.'
"I want my kids to have a better life than I do, have more food, have a bigger house, no mold and get to do what they want to do and what they need to do. And never be hungry..."
The director: Kristi Jacobson
Co-directors Jacobson and Lori Silverbush were inspired by the 1968 CBS special, "Hunger in America," which galvanized political action and led to federal nutrition programs (which were later cut in the Reagan era).
"Lori was mentoring a young girl, a teenager, and came to realize she was not only going hungry a lot, but getting in trouble at school having a lot of different problems that seemed to circle back to this lack of food. Lori thought there was a film to be made about hunger right here in America, and the consequences of hunger not just on children but on the nation.
"This problem is solvable. The bottom line is we have the resources, we have the programs, we need to make it a reality.
"The Colorado story is the heart of this film. I knew when we landed there that this was it — this is America. I remember the day we met Rosie, she was so genuine, someone who you really recognize as struggling, but with a wonderful spirit. I am touched forever by her."
The celebrity chef: Tom Colicchio
Best-known for his role as judge on the "Top Chef" series, Colicchio owns Craft restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, and is a board member of the Food Policy Action Network, which scores members of Congress on food-related votes. His wife, Lori Silverbush, co-directed the film and he was an executive producer.
"I have a certain celebrity, I have a soapbox to stand on and I want to use that to help people. You can choose to use that celebrity for good or you can go to bars and dance on tables. In the last 25 years, I've been helping raise money for various organizations about hunger — Share Our Strength, Meals on Wheels and New York food banks. Not only me, but chefs across the country have been doing this.
"Yes, we're cooking for people who can afford it, but I think having enough to eat is a basic human right. I'm not comfortable with the fact that 60 million Americans are struggling to put food on the table and I'm not comfortable that the country is not doing enough to fix it.
"One reason behind the movie was to change the face of hunger. We're so conditioned to think of Third World hunger that we don't know what it looks like here. Looking at whether or not taking care of hungry people is good for the economy of the United States, the answer is yes. It's in the best interest of all of us to fix it.
"Government can do big things. Government has to take care of it, that's what it's here for. But, I don't necessarily hold our politicians responsible. The people haven't really started focusing on it. No one was talking about this (during the election). Hopefully people will learn about this issue and start demanding a change."
The teacher: Leslie Nichols
A teacher at Plateau Valley Elementary School, Nichols helps deliver 1,500 bags from Food Bank of the Rockies. She has recognized the signs of hunger in her students.
"Ultimately, it's about connecting with human beings. Any good teacher knows if you don't have that connection, they're not learning anything.
"Over time you build the relationship so you can have a discussion that's safe. You have to tread lightly with families. There might be shame, and you don't want to offend them.
"I think some people have a preconceived notion about 'everybody's lazy' but that's not what this is about. Look at what I'm teaching my family, my students when we do service projects. What's really cool is they are helping out their friends, their classmates, their neighbors."
The pastor: Bob Wilson
The leader of the Plateau Valley Assembly of God, Wilson runs a food pantry and an after-school program that feeds children.
"I'm 67 years old and I love it. The highlight of my day is when the school bus pulls up and I hear the brake set and the kids come running off the bus. They have a snack and a Bible story, and we help them with their homework.
"Jesus used food to feed the multitudes, that's how he opened doors. First we let the people know: You are welcome to come. It's hard to get people to realize there is help here. They don't have to share our beliefs, they don't have to share anything.
"The solution is you can make a difference in your community. Anyone can do it — we're not special, we're just the people who make it happen. I think what we're looking is a different way of doing church, it's not just on Sunday morning."