Sundance London Review: Finding North

Image Courtesy of Sundance London

Finding North is a politically motivated documentary featured at Sundance London. Making its debut at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Finding North was selected as one of the 14 films to show at the inaugural Sundance London Film Festival.

The Participant Media documentary (Food, Inc, An Inconvenient Truth) follows the lives of Americans who live in food deserts and struggle with food insecurity. Debuting in an American Presidential election year, the documentary takes a non-partisan political approach to the presentation of its argument and avoids the potentially alienating pitfall of picking political sides during an accelerating election year. Threaded throughout the film are political, economic and personal perspectives that offer a range of frameworks for an audience to buy into.

Focusing on the damaging impact of food insecurity on children is the root of the film's emotional appeal. Rosie, a fifth grader from Collbran, Colorado, lives in a decrepit house with her grandparents, parents and a sister who she sleeps with on a pile of clothes in the laundry room.

Rosie and her teacher discuss the negative impact hunger has had on the young girl's life. She cannot focus in school, she misses too many classes and she is not meeting her potential. Barbie, meanwhile, lives in Philadelphia and is a single mother of two. She has aspirations of higher education but cannot justify the immediate costs of college with two children who do not have enough to eat. Her youngest suffers from an immune disease and delayed speech acquisition due to the cognitive and physical impairment that results from a lack of food during key developmental stages.

The key argument of the film is that millions of Americans suffer from hunger, an unacceptable reality that should be remedied by social policy. The preference for a policy-driven solution is grounded in the notion that food-security policy worked in the 1970s and into the 80s and should work again.

Reaganomics is identified as the seed of the current food crisis. The film avoids demonizing Reagan, but does suggests tax cuts and an increase in defense spending were underwritten by cuts to food security social policies, such as the food stamp program. The political economy of the agricultural industry is also briefly mentioned, focusing on the corrupting effects of big money lobbyists and subsidies to corn and soy-based agricultural corporation. Though, the film only dipped its toe into Fast Food Nation and Food, Inc territory.

Also discussed is who, or better what, assumed responsibility for managing the hunger crisis in America. The film asserts that it is charities and mainly faith based community organizations that carry the burden. While the film commends these organizations for their efforts it emphasizes their lack of effectiveness (the number of soup kitchens in American has grown from 200 in 1980 to 40,000) and the lack of oversight, resulting in the distribution of food with little nutritional value.

A surprising omission in the film was discussion of the ongoing economic crisis in the country and how this effects food insecurity in the US.  With underemployment and unemployment rates that have only recently dropped below the 20 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, a discussion of the recession would have provided more context to the driving statistic of the film: 49 million Americans are hungry. Though, the omission may have been an attempt to dissuade arguments that suggest the crisis is temporary and will remedy with the improvement of the economy, rather than requiring policy-specific redress.

The film's main achievement is its effort to reconceptualize what it means to be of low income. An absurd and persistent stereotype is that people who are of low income either deserve to be, or are so through some moral or ethical failing of their own. The film features adults of varying circumstances who all have families affected by hunger and poverty.  Barbie, a single mother who, even though she is employed full time, does not earn a living wage; to add to her circumstances she makes two dollars over the allowed household limit to qualify for food stamps. A father of two who owns and operates a cattle ranch from 7am - 3pm and then continues his day employed as a custodian at the local elementary school from 3pm-11pm while his wife works an hour's drive away. The Collbran Collerado Marshall who regularly uses the community food bank and soup kitchen. The film shows that poverty can, and does, appear in many forms.

The Sundance London Film and Music Festival runs from 26-29 April at The O2. For further information and tickets visit http://www.sundance-london.com/

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