Feel-bad movie, feel-good change

Jeff vonKaenel

This is my first movie review. I can say this film will move you to tears. It is a real feel-bad movie. I will give it an exploding popcorn bucket rating. If you care about America, you must see this film. You will come away from it a changed person.

The movie is American Winter, produced by Emmy Award-winning documentarians Harry and Joe Gantz. It chronicles the lives of eight families in Portland, Oregon, struggling to keep their heads above water during the recession in 2008-2009. Shown at UC Davis late last month, the film was followed by a panel discussion about poverty in Yolo County.

The movie features eight families with children. Some married couples, a few single moms, and a single dad. They were all working to support themselves and their families. And then, suddenly, they were clobbered by the recession. They lost their jobs. And they were unable—despite desperately, frantically looking— to find new jobs.

Then, things really started to fall apart. Their benefits ran out. They couldn’t pay their mortgage or rent. They couldn’t afford to pay their utility bills. They moved into a garage, and then a shelter. Their electricity or water was turned off. They had to move into their mom’s overcrowded apartment. They had to skip meals so their kids would have enough to eat.

While the interviews and reality-TV-like glimpses into the parents’ lives were moving, the interviews with the children were devastating. The kids who blamed themselves for needing to eat, for needing shelter, for having medical bills. The kids who felt that it would be easier for the parents if they did not exist. And certain things could not be hidden from the children. Like a foreclosure sign on the front door. Like having the electricity turned off. Like having no food in the house, so they needed to visit a friend at mealtime. The kids knew what was going on. And it was painful to watch.

And the loving parents were brokenhearted and ashamed that they were not able to take care of their kids. The movie was filmed in Portland, but it is an American story. The panel, led by Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, talked about similar stories in our region.

There are those, led by the Republicans in Congress, who believe poverty in America is not about economics, but about character. They are right. It is about character. The character of the greedy bankers and businessmen who used their economic power to manipulate laws, tax codes, government programs, trade policies and corporate boards to so unfairly benefit themselves. At the expense of their fellow citizens.

The increasing income inequality in our country needs to be reversed. Watch American Winter. It will change you. And then, let’s change America.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.