Given that an estimated 49 million Americans don’t where their next meal is coming from and Newt Gingrich has turned “food stamps” into two dirty words, “Finding North” is a political hot potato — an incendiary movie, despite its rather civilized facade. Serving up star power (actor Jeff Bridges, chef Tom Colicchio), a smorgasbord of statistics and an unblinking approach to the ways in which the U.S. agriculture game is fixed, the docu could generate heat, given that its potential aud amounts to 99% of the population.
Helmers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush survey the various dysfunctional ways in which decent nutrition is kept out of the mouths of the needy — $20 billion in yearly farm subsidies encourage the production of junk foods, for instance, while political gamesmanship keeps agribusiness flourishing despite the existence of “food deserts,” in which people in some communities simply can’t find decent sustenance because it doesn’t pay to stock their stores.
But the helmers also focus on the personal stories of individuals unable to meet the nutritional needs of their household, and they make the point that such need knows no ethnic, racial or geographic boundaries: The first subjects are a white Christian family of seven in Colorado, with too much income to qualify for food stamps (for which a family of four can’t make more than $28,000 a year). Daughter Rosie has had trouble at school, but it’s all about hunger; who can study when their stomach hurts?
Elsewhere, Silverbus and Jacobson interview single mothers in Philadelphia, Congressmen in Washington, economists, authors, teachers and children, all of whom illustrate how widespread — and solvable — the problem is.
One of the stronger points made by “Finding North,” a title that implies a reorienting of the nation’s moral compass, is that feeding people serves the national interest. “It’s patriotic,” says Bridges, the national chairman of the Share Our Strength/No Kid Hungry campaign, who implies that even those who don’t see a moral imperative to feeding people properly will see a security issue: You don’t want a populace suffering from malnutrition.
A Participant Media production, “Finding North” can be viewed as a companion piece to the company’s influential “Food, Inc.,” which examined the virtual governmental gangsterism that keeps junk food plentiful and cheap through subsidies to corn, among other things. Jacobson and Silverbush’s film is concerned with good food, too, because the rise in obesity is directly connected to cheap carbohydrates and the fact that better-quality produce is grown by small farmers with no political clout.
Still, there’s a certain naivete to the pic, which covers a lot of ground, and well, but seems convinced that addressing hunger is an end in itself. When the directors devote as many minutes as they do to a group like Witnesses to Hunger, a collection of women who’ve experienced real hunger and poverty, and take their cause to Washington, one realizes the futility of dealing with most social issues when the root cause of this problem, and many others, is the influence of money on government. “Finding North” is a useful, engaging and enraging movie that will enlist supporters for its cause (via its online component, a la most Participant docs). But the river of logic in the movie inevitably delivers one to the doorstep of Citizens United, unrestrained PACs and the cost of election campaigns. But that’s another movie.
Tech credits are topnotch, including the music by T Bone Burnett and singer-songwriting duo the Civil Wars, who composed and sung the titular tune.