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Filmmaker Kristi Jacobson's 2012 documentary "A Place at the Table" examines the issue of hunger in America and follows single mother Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two children. (Image courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
Nearly 50 million people, including 17 million children, in the United States are food insecure, meaning they don't know where their next meal will come from.

The staggering statistics are what filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush found while doing research for their 2012 documentary "A Place at the Table."

The film premiered at that year's Sundance Film Festival under the title "Finding North" and examined the hunger epidemic in the nation.

Park City audiences will have three more opportunities to see the film at the Jim Santy Auditorium from Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 2, thanks to collaboration between the Sundance Institute and the Park City Film Series.

Friday's screening is free to the public and will feature a panel discussion with Jacobson and representatives from the Utah Food Bank, the YMCA of Northern Utah, Rob Harter from the Christian Center of Park City and Kathy Ostler from Summit Pediatrics.

Tickets to the screenings on Saturday and Sunday are $7 for adults and $6 for students and senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.parkcityfilmseries.com .

Katy Wang, executive director of the Park City Film Series, said the film's subject is an important topic that faces Summit County.

"We wanted to screen the film, because a part of the film series' mission is to engage in community conversation," Wang told The Park Record. "In my Leadership class in 2011, we examined sustainable food systems and looked at hunger in Summit County."

What Wang and her class found was that people are not technically hungry in the area, meaning they are at least consuming 1,800 calories a day on average, but most of the calories were not from healthy sources.

"The issue was where the calories came from," she said. "Were they eating potato chips or fresh vegetables?

"We have this perception that this isn't an issue for us because we live in an affluent community, but that isn't true," Wang said. "There are people who are generally hungry and there are people who aren't getting adequate nutrition."

Another issue examined by the class was how were kids able to function in school when they weren't eating right.

"I mean how could they concentrate when their stomachs were rumbling and empty?" Wang said.

The problem grows when people in those situations don't speak up, she explained.

"We found there are a lot of people who are in need of services, but are too embarrassed to admit that they need help," Wang said. "We do have great resources in our community, such as the Christian Center and other food banks, so we are helping each other, and this is important for people to know."

That's one reason the Park City Film Series wanted to partner with the Sundance Institute in finding participants for Friday's panel discussion.

Kara Cody, manager for Utah community and student programs at the Sundance Institute, was in charge of putting together a panel that would enhance the filmgoers' experiences.

"This is such a powerful film, so we decided to work together and also get a panel together for an educational discussion afterwards," Cody said.

The first organizations she thought of was the Utah Food Bank and the Christian Center of Park City.

"The Utah Food Bank does so much to help families combat hunger in the state, and since we decided on bringing in a statewide organization, it made sense to have a local affiliate join the discussion," she said. "Rob Harter, who is at the Christian Center, is such an amazing community member and we are lucky to have him in Park City."

In addition to the two organizations, Cody wanted someone to highlight the importance of nutrition in children.

"The YMCA of Northern Utah recently received a grant to identify food deserts in Utah, and we felt having them come was a natural fit," she said. "We also felt we needed someone from a scientific background to round it out, and felt a local pediatrician would be perfect, so we reached out to Kathy Ostler at Summit Pediatrics, because this is a topic that is near and dear to her heart."

Rounding out the panel will be filmmaker Jacobson, who is looking forward to talking about the creating the film.

"The idea about doing a film exploring hunger in the United States was presented to me by my co-director, Lori Silverbush," Jacobson said during a telephone call to The Park Record from a film shoot in Manhattan, N.Y. "Essentially, she had a personal experience while mentoring a young girl, and started to recognize that so many of the issues the girl was having in her life were caused by hunger and food insecurity in her family life.

"Since she is primarily a narrative filmmaker, she felt a documentary would be more effective in relaying these issues," Jacobson said. "So, she came to me."

Jacobson was intrigued by the topic and, being aware of growing eco-social inequality in our country, she had known hunger issues existed, she said.

"However, it wasn't until I started digging and researching that I came to understand how vast the problem is and how insidious it is when it comes to individuals and the nation as a whole," Jacobson said. "I began wondering how can I, as a citizen living in one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, accept that 50 million people, 17 million of them being children, are food insecure and are experiencing debilitating consequences of this problem."

The project became a personal journey for the filmmakers.

"When we began the project, we identified the problem because the numbers were staggering," Jacobson said. "Then we went a step further and tried to identify who the faces were behind the numbers, and that begot a much more important question that drove the making of the film — Why is this happening?"

To do that, the crew embarked on scouting trips throughout the nation, and through their travels, filmmakers met and selected three subjects:

  • Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two children

  • Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school

  • Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health problems are exacerbated by the largely-empty calories her hard-working mother can afford

    "We found there are systemic causes and problems that we need to address if we want to end hunger in America," Jacobson said. "I was surprised at how prevalent hunger is in the United States. It happens in every single community and county across the country, and it didn't seem people were asking the question about why this is happening."

    Following that lead, the filmmakers discovered other issues they couldn't ignore.

    "Documentary filmmaking, oftentimes, is an adventure and you learn to follow your instincts," Jacobson said. "As things progressed, we found it was important for us to debunk the myths about hunger."

    The big issue concerns the food stamp program.

    "When people see the film, they will find that there is a lot of misinformation out there surrounding the food stamps and the people who benefit from them or rely on food banks," Jacobson said. "What we've found is in city after city and town after town, the people who rely on food banks and food stamps are, by and large, working people.

    "For the most part, they are the ones who are playing by the rules and who have one or two jobs and still don't make enough money to put food on the table," she said.

    Another issue was the connection between obesity and food insecurity in America.

    "There is a lot of press surrounding the obesity epidemic here, but (in reality) many of the people who fall into that category are also undernourished," Jacobson said.

    "On the surface, most people will assume those who are obese are making bad food choices and not exercising. While that may be true with some people, the vast majority of these people don't have a choice.

    "That's a result of those systemic causes, whereby someone living in a poorer section of Philadelphia or in the Mississippi Delta don't have access to healthy foods, and even if they do, they are hard-pressed to afford healthy foods," she said. "That was an important discovery for us."

    Jacobson said making the film was just one part of a greater goal.

    "('A Place at the Table') is a cinematic exploration that increases awareness, and from there, we hope to mobilize people to take action," she said. " that, I mean we want people to let their politicians — local, state and federal — know that this is an issue that they care about."

    The Park City Film Series will partner with the Sundance Institute to present Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush's "A Place at the Table," rated PG, Friday, May 31, through Sunday, June 2, at the Jim Santy Auditorium at the Park City Library and Education Center, 1255 Park Ave. The Friday and Saturday screenings will begin at 8 p.m. Sunday's screening will start at 6 p.m. Friday's screening is free to the public, and there will be a panel discussion afterward. Tickets for Saturday and Sunday are $7 for adults and $6 for students and senior citizens. For more information, visit www.parkcityfilmseries.com .