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Sundance film review: 'Finding North' follows struggles of hungry families in U.S.

Published: Thursday, Jan. 26 2012 11:58 a.m. MST

Scene from the documentary "Finding North," a film by Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush. Credit: Sundance

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PARK CITY — "Finding North," a poignant film about hunger in the United States, is a commendable entrant in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

The foundational premise of "Finding North" is that one in six Americans doesn't get enough to eat on a regular basis. This statistic is based on the fact that 49 million Americans — including 17 million children — are "food insecure," a condition defined as "uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all household members because of insufficient money or other resources for food."

Directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson craft a fluid narrative through the experiences of three people who regularly find themselves mired in circumstances with insufficient food for feeding everyone in their families: Tremonica, a Mississippi second grader; Rosie, a fifth grader in Colorado; and Barbie, a single mother of two young children in Philadelphia.

Even in the face of long odds and chronic struggles to quell their own hunger, Rosie and Barbie in particular exude an ebullient optimism that could disarm even the most calloused critics of government food-assistance programs such as food stamps. Indeed, Barbie's plight provides "Finding North" with its most heartbreaking moment: three months after starting a full-time job and getting off government assistance, she is sending her kids to bed hungry because she is caught in the no-man's land of making too much money to qualify for food stamps but not enough to actually feed her family three times a day.

"Finding North" highlights the herculean work of churches, charities and food banks to ameliorate the effects of hunger in America. However, Silverbush and Jacobson contend food insecurity is a problem so pervasive in the U.S. that the only tenable solution is a grass-roots movement aimed at sparking greater government involvement. To that end, the film encourages viewers to become vocal about ending hunger in America and promises to launch a social action campaign this spring at takepart.com/findingnorth.

"Our hope," Jacobson said, "is that the film and the campaign are a catalyst for people really putting public pressure — real, legitimate pressure — on politicians to do something and get the changes that can lead to ending hunger."

The element of "Finding North" perhaps most responsible for giving the film its rich texture is an especially soulful score. Acclaimed producer T Bone Burnett and musical duo The Civil Wars joined forces to create original music that evokes the American heartland by fusing elements of folk, country and bluegrass.

"One of our favorite experiences in the making of the film was sitting in the room with T Bone and a group of incredible musicians," Silverbush said. "They would watch scenes from the movie, and we would all talk about (what we saw). And literally with tears in their eyes, they would start to improvise and unbelievable musical paragraphs would come out of it that would express the emotion they had felt in seeing the scene."

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and his wife, Christina Weiss Lurie, are executive producers of "Finding North."

email: jaskar@desnews.com

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