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 safety 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 large 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.
In 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.