"50 million Americans exist without enough to eat in a nation with more than enough food."
Thus declares "A Place at the Table," a 2012 documentary that calls attention to widespread hunger in the United States.
Nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance - and featuring interviews with actor Jeff Bridges, author Raj Patel and TV chef Tom Colicchio - the film plays at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St., with additional shows at 7 p.m. April 17 and 18.
“A Place at the Table” will be shown 2 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Wednesday and April 18 at the Community Arts Center, 220 W. Fourth St.
Ranging from hovel-like homes in Colorado to emergency rooms in Philadelphia to congressional hearings in Washington, the film is an urgent call to arms on behalf of the many Americans with "food insecurity" - that is, they don't know where their next meal is coming from.
Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush pepper their bracing film with numerous spokesmen - lawyers, cooks, teachers, congressmen, grandparents, pastors, authors, waitresses, cops, doctors and heads of various relief agencies.
Yet amidst all these compelling voices, the film wisely focuses on a few individuals whose tales are undeniably moving.
Chief among these is an impassioned, articulate single mom who gets a job after years of struggling to feed her kids; as a result of her modest new income, Barbie loses public assistance and finds her battle harder than ever.
Equally effective is a fifth-grader who enjoys school work but is so badly hounded by hunger that she sometimes imagines her teacher and classmates as gigantic fruits and vegetables.
"A Place at the Table" was produced and distributed by the firms who oversaw the anti-agribusiness documentary "Food, Inc." (2008).
"Table" sounds a similar note, insisting that government often subsidizes processed, high-carb foods, whereas healthier fruits and vegetables receive only 1 percent of such funds.
One result is a proliferation of what the film calls "food deserts" - that is, vast pockets of rural America where convenience stores offer lots of chips and sugary treats, while bona fide grocery stores are often more than 30 miles away.
Because healthy foods are both costlier and harder to find, "Table" ties the hunger crisis to various health issues such as obesity and diabetes, both of which have ballooned in recent years.
The surprising link between poverty and obesity is touched on only briefly here; I felt Jacobson and Silverbush might have spent more time on this common but apparently paradoxical issue.
Indeed, given the profound complexity of these matters, "Table's" 84-minute running time doesn't allow the directors to reach sufficient depth or propose real solutions - though they do press for increased government spending, especially on school lunches.
Personally, I'm not crazy about more federal outlays; as one online reviewer cogently asked, if government spending (on agribusiness) caused this problem, then why should we expect more government spending to solve it?
Ultimately, the film's strength is not so much in bringing the issue to light as in humanizing it with stories of hard-working parents, grieving teachers and livid civic leaders.
As U.S. Rep. James McGovern says in the film, "If making sure people have enough to eat isn't an important issue, then I don't know what the hell is."
Tickets for the CAC show are $5 - a worthy investment, and less than the film's instant-showing price at iTunes and Amazon.
*** (out of four)
The film is rated PG for mature themes and brief language.