By Jef Dinsmore on Mar 20, 2013 to Documentaries


Overview: As the economy slowly recovers from the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, an increasing number of families are caught in a daily struggle to meet basic needs. At the same time, the social AmericanWinter_postersafety net intended to help those in crisis has been weakened by budget cuts, creating a perfect storm of greater need and fewer resources for the vulnerable. Viewed through the stories of eight families, AMERICAN WINTER reveals the devastating fallout of the mortgage meltdown, unemployment, the health care crisis and a shrinking social safety net. Included in the film are interviews with local economic experts, policy analysts, religious leaders and social workers.

Expectations: I’m not quite sure how to take this one. My expectations are pretty high for like everyone else, I know stories from my own community of the hardships people have endured over the past few years. Can this documentary show me something different that I haven’t already heard? But, why should I doubt that it shouldn’t be able to offer something different. First, it comes to me via HBO and their top-notch documentaries rarely totally disappoint. Plus, my first person perspective is from a small rural community and not even from a mid-sized city let alone a major city like Portland Oregon. I suspect I am going to see how really bad it is out there.

Review: This documentary was filmed over the winter of 2011 -12 and it locks in the analogy perfectly. A largAmericanWinter_familye portion of America is facing a harsh, bitter and bleak time. We get a glimpse into the desperate lives of eight families as they struggle to survive their own form of distress. The circumstances vary but each one is in peril. This 91-minute film, interspersed with statistics and economic experts is by the Gantz Brothers of TAXICAB CONFESSIONS fame. Their film clearly spells out the dilemma; showing a broken system in a vicious cycle. AMERICAN WINTER makes its point well and then pounds it home again and again.

In fact, I might find that a fault with this piece. The editing was not fluid and the piece could have been a bit tighter. I lost count of how many statistics were posted and the musical interludes of the winter scene around Portland stretched this work out to long. It proved unwieldy to play out the perils of eight different stories within the construct of the work, though all of those stories proved of interest. I liked the device of listening to the 211 Info calls and the concerned on the other end to draw us to the families filmed for this work and I appreciated the ‘talking heads’ and their insights too what is happening in America today. Again, though I hate to wish these stories cut short, an hour and a half of their situation was a tiresome experience. One I don’t, in the long run, regret having.

AmericanWinter_coupleIn Conclusion: The stories of TJ & Tara, John & Geral, Brandon & Pam, Diedre, Ben & Paula, Shanon, Mike & Heather and Jeannette & Gunner are tough yet common tales across America’s landscape. Through their examples AMERICAN WINTER proves that something must be done. Good luck to us all.

Other air dates on HBO include 03.21 at 4:30pm, 03.23 at 10:30am, 03.26 at 8:00 am & 12:05 am, 03.29 at 3:00pm and 03.31 at 1:15pm. It can also be seen on HBO2 and HBOGo.


  • vagabonde

    Ok, the film has shown a very important and relevant problem. It is not only the USA who suffers from this but also many other countries (like UK for example). I got the message and the overal intension.

    But honestly I was simply put off by the way this film was made. It has a feeling more like reality show then real document. Maybe it is because I am from Europe and I am used to different kind of documentary work, but is it really necessary to show crying faces in front of camera every single time? To stalk mother and son who are on their way to buy dinner like some paparazzi, even if it is clear that the boy don´t like the whole situation?

    According to me, the presence of camera in those situations led to unnaturally feeling dialogues. You are on screen so you have to say something and you are aware that you are filmed… and with all this stress going all emotional is almost granted. It was more like turn off – many people have not hot dinner so scene about “oh, you have school tomorrow and I can´t give you a warm dinner because this restaurant is no longer open, oh I am so sorry….” are somewhat counterproductive. I really feel for those people and do not blaming them and I do charity and I know how easy I or many others can end up on the streets, but this kind of documentary making is not a good way. It is good that the film opened up a discussion but I think that with this strong theme it could be way better then this…

    On the other hand it seems that for many people in USA (based on comments in discussions) this film do work and they are feeling sad and compelled to help after seeing those scenes I don´t like. But as I can see from comments, not nearly for all it works – because the film is based mainly on few family stories and their emotions some people will find what those families did wrong in the past or what they can do different now. Maybe some of the comments can be even relevant or maybe not, but the result is clear and it is poor work of the film makers: all the blame is back on their backs and they can cry all they want.


    Maybe in your life you did have to much ice creams when you have a good job and instead of saving money you went to a movie or gave some old clothes to charity instead of using it and save. Or you did believe that economic is strong and there always be a job for a hard worker. Yes, it was all these bad little decisions which led to your situation… SERIOUSLY? Shit happens to all of us, sooner or later. Do you people believe that you have to watch out every single little decision or be prepare for every situation that can occurs? And if so, how do you do it? Did you consider that by saving at all costs and getting two jobs and work all the time and constantly stress you can develop a serious illness so all your effort can be in vain OR your children will grown up without really knowing its parents and maybe end up using drugs or something. When the line between homelessness and middle class is so thin that you have to be on guard all the time, it is not the personal but structural problem.

    An important point is that in the USA are many people not only prone to poverty, but also they are to ashamed to ask for help not only from institutions but also from their relatives and friends. Why they have to keep their bad condition in secret and deal with the problems on their own? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS SOCIETY?

    Hey, think about it – the boy was scared to tell that he is living in the shelter to his schoolmates. The mother could not tell her FRIENDS (?!) on FB that they have no money and had to leave their house. It is a very clear picture: they are ashamed and they fears what other will think about them just because they don´t have enough money now – even if they were “good members of society” before. Their friends have to know that they are decent people and yet they are ashamed that they can´t pay the bill after loosing job (which is very common in these days and most people understand how hard is to find a job). It talks tons about how are poor people or people in need of any kind of help perceived by others in this society… If you are poor you have a big sign YOU DID SOMETHING WRONG. DON´T BOTHER US – IT IS YOUR FAULT.
    Well, maybe not…

  • Tae’lur Jones

    Albeit this is the state of the Union this does not simply have to be. Look around globally to third world countries shameful. We are Americans who live in the wealthiest country and yet we do not support our own. I am not saying do not help others but Heaven’s sake support, educate our own. This is the backbone this country was and is built on. If we do not want to see uprising in our streets we truly must address these issues. Not to live in denial and turn our eyes away from the realities of many. Just some thoughts. I ask on any level small or big what are you as individuals doing to help in any area? Other then to blame those in governments for not doing it or fixing it? Yes they should provide services and help. But as an individual what can you do for your neighbor who struggles or a homeless person this is paying compassion and humanity forward. It always comes back to the share responsibilities of taking care of others along your path in life.

  • Bhig Bhad Wolf

    One of the reasons my family survived the crisis on one income for awhile, is because we practice BIRTH CONTROL. We have ONE child, and there will be no more, because even though we make decent money now, the idea that the economy is even remotely safe or recovered is laughable. Kids suck up your money and time, and it’s easy to find someone to babysit one kid if you need it. I have a hard time feeling bad for most of these people, because the idea of permanent birth control (i.e. IUD or sterilization) never occurred to them.

    Having tons of kids is ridiculous, and selfish, and just sets you up to never be able to recover.

  • Tara

    I can’t believe some of the people on here. I’m one of these families and to say we eat out all the time is crazy I cook every night for my family and I make sure my 3 kids are taken care of. I work my butt off every day to make sure my kids are taken care of. I wish this will never happen to you

    • Lisa

      Don’t let the crazy comments get to you. Any intelligent, compassionate person who saw the film clearly saw how hard you work for your family and the love within your family.

      Good for you to rake the high road to wish the negative commenters the best / that it will never happen to them.

      Is there a way people can get in touch with you & TJ or others profiled in the documentary to offer assistance?

    • airguitargrrl

      Tara, the whole point of the film is that the problems exist with the system, not with families or individuals. Some people are just unable to see that. They are protecting themselves psychologically from the idea that the same thing could happen to them. I absolutely admire your courage and persistence, and I am glad I have the opportunity to tell you personally. Please ignore the judgmental comments.

    • Toni Martin

      yes dont listen they will understand when it hits their stomach like it has ours

  • Melissa

    I see the comments about who is paying for the tattoos and their large waistlines. While this may be an arguable debate with you, it appears you missed the point. The documentary was clear and concise on depicting the magnitude of this problem and its trickling down effect on us all. We seem to forget that these are real people who are trying to work just to have food and basic necessities of life. While education seems to be key, it’s apparent that the kids are falling short at finding their true potential, which will no doubt limit their ability to even go to college. These kids are instead at school hoping their mom and dad are ok and that all their personal belongings aren’t in the front yard when they get off the bus. These complex issues will not go away. I live in Georgia where the Hope Scholarship is funded by the state lottery system. I can only tell you how the program helped me. I am 38 with 2 children (19 and 16) I initially did not start off well. My husband and I were poor. He worked at box manufacturing co and I was a waitress. 75% of my check went to child care and gas. But I needed the 25% so desperately. In 99 we used our tax refund to buy Microsoft certification books for my husband. The following year, used our tax refund to pay for the actual MCSC certification. It was then my husband was finally able to obtain gainful employment. I, I. The meantime went to work for a orthopedic practice where I stayed 12 years before quitting to go to nursing school. I was only able to afford such a program through funding of the Hope scholarship. I will graduate in December. My husband has since grown in his job and makes 2-3 times the average household income

  • Anonymous

    The stories are all sad — sad for the children, first and foremost.

    What is unseen/undescribed but should not go unnoticed is that one notch up from the destitute families that were documented are families that are barely hanging on. And conditions in those families are stressed — as the family struggles not to become destitute.

    And then a notch above that is another level of stressed families — struggling not to fall into the abyss.

    How can the stress in the families be relieved/reduced? Is there any hope?

    I think that we need to have support structures for families before they reach the point of destitute. And education. And proper opportunity.

    In fairness, the point about the family planning, the tattoos and physical condition (obesity) is not completely off-point.

    The quality of life for most of us is at least in part a product of our judgment calls and the priorities we set.

    We do ourselves (our future selves) and our children no favor if we make bad/questionable judgment calls or misplace our priorities.

    Bringing a child into the world carries with it a deep responsibility. It is good neither for child or parent if that reality/responsiblity is not accepted and acknowledged in advance of conception — and able to be assumed.

    I don’t know what a tattoo costs. But it might approximate a monthly rent payment. Priorities.

    Overeating not only increases food costs but also health risks of all kinds.

    It is fair to think that the film-makers sanitized quite a bit of what viewers saw in an effort to show the families to be sympathetic and the cause to be compelling. There is more to the picture in each family that we were not told. That does not mean the stories are not sad or that we should be unsympathetic.

    We are a land of freedom in a sense but not freedom from the consequences of our actions.

    No one has to be perfect but the better your judgment calls are the better your life will be.

    God bless all.

  • patcardiff

    I’ve worked on poverty effects as an economist and statistician for about 25 years now. This film struck me as highly understandable, highly informative, compelling, scary, and I felt much more guilt at being middle class. I’m sorry for people who cannot see the difference between structural poverty and the personal.

  • freethinking70

    After reading the string of other comments, I
    thought I would comment, but quite honestly, I simple wouldn’t know how to answer such ignorance!

  • Loretta Kane

    #AmericanWinter wins #SidneyAward for exposing what happens to the shrinking middle class

  • scott

    Spot on comments about family planning. I watched the film last night and it was easy to see how these family’s got themselves into the situations they were in. While there were a couple of exceptions, the majority of the families profiled had 3,4 or 5 children. Why these parents thought on a single or even two lower end salaries it was responsible (it wasn’t) or even feasible (it wasn’t) to have a huge family I won’t understand. These adults found themselves in these situations based on a series of poor decisions, there is no one else to blame besides themselves.

  • Lauren

    Most of the people are of a younger age, which is the age when people wanted material things before they could afford them. The older generation was taught to do without and save for a rainy day in case if these things happen.
    I volunteer with the needy in the food area. I see some really bad situations, along with the homeless, but then others will take from many sources along with the government when they don’t need it, but are eligible.

  • Lauren

    By the comments in this film, speakers seem to be against capitalism and big business. It was the government (Dodd/Frank bill) who contributed to part of the problem by allowing people to buy homes they could not yet afford.
    Under the Oregon health plan (which the Government gave 1.9 billion to last year in the hopes of a saving a failing health care plan) the little girl’s bill would have been taken care of.
    Not long ago a refugee mother with her 5 children came to Oregon from Somalia, then was discovered to have lung cancer. Her treatment was taken care of by the state, but sadly she passed, her kids have and will get free health care.


    Really makes me sad to see post about the tattoos , family planning ,if people cook their dinner …This is what is wrong with the world ! what I seen from this film is people just trying to make it in the world. Its not that they are not trying.I hope that one day you won’t find yourself in the same boat.

  • disqus_7z4EtTIUjb

    and who is paying for the tattoos? and the delivery they walked out of the hospital with plenty of supplies.
    and does anyone cook at dinner time ??? a big no i bet
    mickey dee’s everynight all week looking at their waistlines

    • airguitargrrl

      Did it occur to you that the tattoos and delivery costs happened BEFORE these people lost their jobs? FFS!

  • disqus_7z4EtTIUjb

    what these family needs is a lesson in family planning…use contraceptives
    there will be more resourses to go around with less mouths to feed

  • Brian K.

    The destruction of the middle class….Thank you Obama. As you are spending money on stupid studies on the matting habits of fish, and failed green energy concepts, Handing money to the Muslim Brotherhood (Egypt) as they spew contempt for Christians and Jews. You take lavish vacations (Just this week) sending your kids to the Bahamas Prince Resort for spring break. You pay your mother in law $100k to babysit, and another $100k to a person to train your dog…. (I can get you both for less than $50K).

    You play king Louis and your wife plays Marie Antoinette and in the mean time this is the state of the people. For so many to cherish the idea of the first black president…. we ended up with a POS like him. It is sad…. WAKE UP AMERICA before he kills us all.

    • Not sure if you’re trolling or not..
      But all opinions are welcome here and you kept this semi-civil!

      Not sure I watched this and though “Thanks Obama”. I don’t blame republicans either. There are things we know now in hindsight, of course.
      I just hope we all learn from them.

    • airguitargrrl

      Oh yeah, these problems didn’t exist until the Obama presidency.

  • Alexander

    Who edits these pieces? Learn the difference between ‘to’ and ‘too’. Perhaps there is a professional writer looking for work who could do a better job.

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