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‘Finding North’ Shines Spotlight on Food Insecurity

  By Michelle Kung Wall St. Journal Speakeasy Blog January 30, 2012, 7:00 PM ET. A few years ago, filmmaker Lori Silverbush was shocked to discover a girl she was mentoring was subsisting on chips and ramen — and that’s when her family was able to buy any food at all. To help out, Silverbush got the young girl into a private school, which inadvertently exacerbated the problem: the new school didn’t provide free lunches, so the girl was reduced to scavenging through lunchroom remains. As the wife of chef and “Top Chef” host Tom Colicchio, Silverbush was no stranger to issues of hunger and poverty, but her visceral encounter with her mentee and her family motivated her to produce and direct “Finding North,” a documentary about America’s hunger crisis that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival last week. Because Silverbush was new to the documentary world, she teamed up with documentarian Kristi Jacobson to co-direct and co-produce the film. Colicchio is also on board as an executive producer, as are Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann. The Civil Wars and T. Bone Burnett — who ironically, was writing the score for “The Hunger Games” concurrently with “Finding North” — composed and performed the film’s original music. “This has been a three-year process, which is a long time,” says Colicchio. “But when you see the film come to life and how audiences react to it, you realize, ‘Wow, maybe we can make a difference.’” “It’s a problem that’s hidden in plain view,” he says. “Even brushing up against it as much as you do in my industry, you still don’t understand how pervasive it is until you start seeing all the personal stories.” To find their eventual subjects, which include a single mother from Philadelphia and a second grader from Mississippi, Silverbush and Jacobson hit the phones, communicating with organizations like Witnesses to Hunger, and did extensive research into the subject. “We had this huge learning curve, and one of the big surprises for us was that it’s not just this urban story,” says Jacobson, who points out that 50 million Americans go without enough food and 44 million are on food stamps. “It’s actually rural America and suburban America. There is not a single county in this country that isn’t impacted.” The filmmakers also discovered how many “food insecure” families existed but were unwilling to talk about their experiences out of fear or humiliation. In particular, the women were hoping to get a military family to talk about being on food stamps and experiencing food insecurity, but no such individuals stepped forward — often because they considered speaking about such matters to be unpatriotic. “What everyone needs to realize is that this affects all of us, whether we’re aware of it or not,” says Silverbush. “While someone may not be personally hungry, the issue affects our competitiveness as a nation and we are cutting off our kids off at the knees [when they don’t get enough to eat].” http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/01/30/finding-north/