Fixing Hunger May Be Easier Than You Realize
There is nothing for a college writer quite like walking into a big, fancy hotel, navigating your way through the series of maze-like hallways, and walking into the interview room only to find yourself to be the sole interviewer. Talk about intimidating. Fortunately, the interviewees appeared to be laid back and down to earth people who did not seem to care that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. The husband and wife duo—Lori Silverbush, the film’s co-director, and Tom Colicchio, who was one of the film’s stars—instantly nicked any nervousness and we began.
The Suffolk Voice: Which story line or statistic do you think will stay with the audience the most?
Lori Silverbush: You know, it’s funny. Some audience really, really connect with Rosy and some audiences really, really connect with Barbie. I think the movie is the kind where we really, really tried to represent a sample of what’s going on. I found that depending on who the person watching is, they connect with different people for different reasons. I feel that a lot of young people and college-aged kids can really respond to Barbie because she’s their age and she’s going through something that a lot of college-aged kids may not have experienced, but they somehow know about. Like, ‘I get she’s my age.’ There’s actually an intern in our office who is our chief researcher and associate producer on the film and her job was to take all the footage and log it, so we could see what film we had. When she was transcribing Barbie’s footage she was so moved, to the point of tears even, at times. And she comes from such a different world, you know? But this was another kid her age, so she really found her relatable.
Tom Colicchio: Another thing we wanted to do was make people understand what the issue is here, and that there is an issue, and also understand that you could know these people.
Suffolk Voice: Definitely. So I saw the screening last week and after the film was over and the credits were rolling, no one really moved. We all just sort of remained motionless in our seats even as the lights came up.
Colicchio: Do you mind me asking what the environment was like?
Suffolk Voice: Well, it was a smaller press screening; there weren’t a ton of people there, but there was definitely an air of shock, and the feeling that we had all been moved by the film and the content of the film.
Silverbush: That’s the kind of reaction we would love everyone to have! What was the feeling in the room?
Suffolk Voice: It was just kind of… Well obviously everyone knows that there is hunger. I don’t think people really realize how bad it is. So, definitely, there was the feeling of being stunned or moved.
Silverbush: Was that your experience as well?
Suffolk Voice: Yes, I thought it was really good. I was just like, ‘wow, I wasn’t expecting to see this on a Thursday afternoon.’ It was very unexpected and cool.
Silverbush: Cool. Well thank you!
Suffolk Voice: Yeah! So what was it that stuck with you guys on the film?
Silverbush: Well, I think something like what you just said. You know, when I set out to make it, my partner [Kristi Jacobson].. We, ourselves, didn’t really know the extent of the problem. But once we started to look into it and discovered that, you know, fifty million Americans are impacted by this issue and millions are food insecure and don’t know where they’re going to get their next meal, it really shape shifted for us and we were like ‘wow this is not… the other.’
This is not some group that we can say, ‘oh they made bad choices in life.’ This is 50 million people. That is a really big part of the population and it changed it from this issue to sort of a large scale public health crisis in my mind. Once you’re dealing with a public health crisis and an issue that impacts every American in some way whether they know about it or not, even if it’s just a question of your tax dollars going to pay for the health care that people need. It just suddenly changed my whole perspective on it.
Suffolk Voice: Yeah, exactly. You wouldn’t think.
Tom Colicchio: It’s a big issue to tackle because you can tell stories of just sort of hunger. You can then look at the reasons people are hungry for socio-economic reasons and for political reasons as well. And then you can also look at-
Silverbush: How we got here.
Colicchio: Yes, exactly, how we got here. Then you can also decide whether or not you want to tell someone about how to fix it or who is currently working on trying to fix it, who’s working against it. You can tell a whole lot of different stories. So the question of the filmmakers is: what story do you tell and what is the most effective story to tell without clouding the view and making it as clear as possible?
The decision was not to sort of change the face of hunger, because I think in this country, the idea of hunger is more of a third world hunger, not much ever happens here. There’s that and single out the reasons why and how you go about fixing it, but not include various organizations that are at work trying to fix it. I think that when you start doing your research, and it was a process that was done over two and a half years, just to make it, your sort of path changes. What you learn when you’re making the film leads you in a different direction. And then, ultimately, you’ve got what that film is going to be. Because you’ve only got- you know, it’s not a six part series. There’s a lot you can do a six part series on, but this is an hour and forty five minutes. So, you have to-
Silverbush: I wish it was an hour and forty five minutes. It’s only an hour and twenty minutes.
Colicchio: An hour and twenty minutes. You have to figure out ways to be economical with your storytelling. Figure out a way to deliver that information concisely, and as clearly as possible.
Silverbush: So, at the end of the day, frankly, what I think we were most hoping to do was to put a human face on something. These are people who, you know, are not going to learn, they aren’t going to come away with a bunch of statistics. It’s not about charts and bar graphs, it’s about human beings. Human beings who are impacted. There are some amazing stories and when you come across just ordinary people and they could be people living on your street, people up the road, people at your church, your community center, your school.. Ordinary Americans that you see every day of the week. I think that, ultimately, the goal was to get the human stories across and let them really tell, at the end of the day, all you need to know.
This is a young person’s issue. One of the things we couldn’t really do was show everybody. There’s definitely a problem with senior hunger, American hunger and we had to pick and choose. But I think that young people your age have the biggest role to play in changing this problem, believe it or not. And by that I mean, college kids don’t have the money to be writing checks and you don’t have hours and hours to call your senators. You’ve got exams, papers; you’ve got [extracurricular activities] like this.
But the number one surprising thing I learned was, a member of congress told me that if six people in his district contact him to let him know that they feel strongly about an issue, he might change how he votes on that issue. Six. Because he assumes for each person who called there were a couple thousands of people who didn’t bother to call but still feel that way. Now, I didn’t know that, so I was really cynical about it. I thought, ‘oh, how can one person’s voice (change something). I’m not going to bother calling.’ But let me tell you, once I learned that, it changed everything. I started to realize that even though this is a film about hunger, it’s really a film about democracy. If people let their members of congress know that they care and that they want this to end, if they really get together and say ‘enough,’ they’ll be heard because people in congress want to hold on to their jobs. You can tell the people in congress with one tweet, one call, one message that you’re done with this and you want it fixed. If enough people do it, it will get fixed.
Suffolk Voice: Wow, you wouldn’t think that something like that could be so simple.
Silverbush: I know, right? It’s pretty amazing. And if your readers take anything away with them, it’s that they, personally, can fix it.
Suffolk Voice: That’s completely crazy! It doesn’t really take any effort at all.
Silverbush: It’s funny; it takes less effort than volunteering at food kitchens and food cupboards, which a ton of people are doing. If you can get over your disbelief that getting involved politically matters and understand that in a mass, it does.
Colicchio: It takes less work than two hours on Facebook.
Suffolk Voice: Exactly! So the film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. What was your reaction to that?
Colicchio: It would’ve been better if we’d won!
Silverbush: To be honest with you, we didn’t set out to make the film to win awards. It’s always nice when you go to festivals and you get attention. It feels really good, but at the end of the day, if we made a film that came away with every award at every film festival and then never did another thing, I would consider it a failure. I would like to make a film that people go to see and talk about and write about and share with their friends and their families and communities. I don’t even care about the awards it takes away, but if it changes the conversation at the dinner table and gets people to broaden their thinking on something and ultimately changes something, then I would consider it a success. And the way for that to happen is for people to see the movie, get on the website, go check it out, because, truly, people can be the agent for change on this. Then I will feel like the movie won every possible award.
Suffolk Voice: Congratulations on the film and thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it!
Colicchio: No problem! Thank you!