“Finding North,” a documentary about hunger in America featuring members of the Witness to Hunger research project at the Drexel University School of Public Health, debuted Jan. 22 at the annual Sundance Film Festival.
The film competed against 15 other films in the U.S. Documentary Competition of the festival, which ended Jan. 29. While “Finding North” was not an award winner in the competition, being screened at Sundance is widely considered an honor.
Sundance’s film guide on “Finding North” says the documentary “unveils the human stories behind the statistics,” offering examples of people profiled in the film, including “a rancher juggling two jobs and a small-town policeman [who] rely on food pantries to survive between paychecks; a single working mom [who] can’t afford consistent meals for her children; [and] a short-order cook [who] must travel more than an hour to purchase fruits and vegetables.”
The single working mother in question was Barbie Izquierdo, a Philadelphia resident and participant in the Witnesses to Hunger research project founded by Mariana Chilton, an associate professor and director of the Center for Hunger-Free Communities at the Drexel University School of Public Health.
Chilton also appeared in the documentary to discuss the struggles faced by those with food insecurity and those trying to end it. As previously reported in The Triangle, Chilton has been performing research on food insecurity and hunger for the past 11 years at Drexel.
“Finding North” was produced by Participant Media, a production company known for its socially conscious films and documentaries. Its 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” examined the underbelly of the country’s food industry and corporate farming businesses.
The company’s website states, “Ultimately, ‘Finding North’ shows us how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation and that it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides — as they have in the past — that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.”
“There’s a huge disconnect between the people who are suffering and the people who can do something about it,” Chilton said in the trailer for the documentary.
According to the film, one in six Americans consistently does not have enough to eat. Forty-nine million Americans — of whom 17 million are children — face food insecurity, meaning that they are unable to acquire enough food or resources to feed all the members of their household.
“Hunger isn’t just someone in Africa that’s real skinny and you can see their ribs. It’s right here in the United States,” Izquierdo says in the trailer for the documentary.
Though Izquierdo has a full-time job and stopped relying on the government for assistance with food stamps, she is considered to be making too much money to qualify for food stamps but not enough to provide her family with three meals a day.
“I used to read pizzeria menus to get rid of my hunger pains just so I could be able to feed my children,” she states in the trailer.
The documentary was scored by legendary music producer T-Bone Burnett and the Grammy-nominated country folk duo The Civil Wars, and the soundtrack was composed of both original numbers made specifically for the film as well as songs from the group’s 2011 album “Barton Hollow.” The group had previously worked with the producers when they collaborated with Taylor Swift to create a song for the companion album to the upcoming “Hunger Games” movie.
“Before we even met up with him, we wrote a song called ‘Finding North,’ which we didn’t realize would become the title of the actual documentary,” singer Joy Williams of the Civil Wars said in an interview with the British HeyUGuys culture blog.
Burnett had previously worked with Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges on his solo album and his movie “Crazy Heart,” and Bridges appeared as a talking head in “Finding North” to speak as the founder of the End Hunger Network, which he started in 1983.
The group’s website states that the End Hunger Network “works with the entertainment industry and other partners to create and support media projects, programs and events to raise awareness and generate action to end U.S. child hunger.”
Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a former Hollywood producer, served as the executive producer of “Finding North” along with his wife, Christina Weiss Lurie.