HBO Documentary Films: PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK – THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KATRINA GILBERT

By Jef Dinsmore on Mar 18, 2014 to Documentaries

Doc logoOverview: Filmed over the course of one year in Chattanooga, Tenn., PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK follows Katrina Gilbert, a 30-year-old mother of three who works as a certified nursing assistant in an extended-care facility while striving to address her own health-care issues. Overworked, underpaid, uninsured and lacking support, she chooses daily between purchasing her own medication and paying for the needs of her three children, which often leaves her struggling to make ends meet. Despite these obstacles, Gilbert works to better her circumstances, Docs Paycheckapplying for college courses that could raise her income. But circumstances often leave her slipping backwards, wondering if she will ever truly be able to get ahead.

 From Maria Shiver’s groundbreaking multi-platform project “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink,” PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK: THE LIFE & TIMES OF KATRINA GILBERT is directed and produced by Shari Cookson and Nick Doob (HBO’s Emmy-winning THE MEMORY LOSS TAPES) and executive produced by Peabody and Emmy-winner Maria Shriver (HBO’s THE ALZHEIMER PROJECT) and HBO’s Sheila Nevins. The film is termed an unvarnished account of a single mom struggling to get ahead, but constantly getting knocked back by a system that almost seems designed to see her fail.

 Expectations: Maria Shriver states that “We all know Katrina Gilbert – she’s our friend, our sister, our daughter, struggling to make her way in the world.” That statement is important to me. I know many a woman in the rural region in which I live that has a life like the one described here. Being familiar with people living paycheck by paycheck it is going to be hard for this story to be surprising. I am just hoping for a complete story discussing all the stresses and encapsulating not just how a single mother copes but how anyone survives paycheck to paycheck.

Gut Reaction: This documentary, though it does throw a few statistics on the screen, does not hit you with the state of the nation. Instead it cites just one example – moments throughout Katrina’s year raising three children on $9.49 an hour. Nor does the film offer ways to help or thoughts on how to fix the problem; it simply states that this is the way it is and here is how one person deals and copes. She sells her kid’s puppy for small cash; she ignores medical issues with herself, but s fast to deal with health issues amongst the children; she stresses over the unforeseen expenses we all face, but could bankrupt her and she trudges on with her job and her life.paycheck07 th

It is a dime a dozen story but the story of Katrina and family does draw you in. Don’t look for resolution in this piece though, because it is not there. By film’s end 75 minutes later we see her still moving forward the best she can. For those who don’t know how this demographic of society survives from paycheck to paycheck then this documentary will illustrate it for you, but you’ll probably never watch it.      

 In Conclusion: It was a good story to tell and a good addition to the “Shriver Report” which is an ongoing awareness campaign of Maria Shriver’s all geared toward empowering women. Whether the bit of notoriety Katrina Gilbert gained through this documentation proves prosperous for her is unclear at this point, but we can hope that it did. Through the film we see that she tries hard to do right by her family, even at the neglect of herself. Hopefully now she can afford to complete college. Hopefully, people take in this documentary and understand the plight of the many just like her.   

 PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK is free to view and you can find it below.  Other air dates on the channel include 03.20 at 4:45pm; 03.21 at 12:30am; 03.23 at 10:30am; 03.26 at 11:00am and 03.29 at 4:45pm. It can also be seen oh HBO2 and HBOGo.  


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  • Eleonora Iafano

    Jef, I just watched this and I was holding back tears during certain parts. This poor woman had to pick and choose between which prescriptions she needed?! That is sad and not at all good for her health. I was so frustrated for her – she wants to do better for herself and her children and struggles daily to make ends meet. It’s a horrible vicious cycle. I am in my mid 30s and I have a house, an excellent job with benefits and a husband. We have no debt except our mortgage. This poor woman has 3 children to feed and was constantly putting their needs before her own. What an awful way to live, day to day, with stress adding up. :(

  • Jessica

    The video will not play.

  • http://hbowatch.com/ Jacob Klein

    Still planning to watch this one. I saw some interviews with Maria and the extended preview and am definitely going to check it out. Thanks for the review, Jef.

  • Eleonora Iafano

    I saw the preview for this and was immediately drawn to it. I am going to watch it. It just looks so sad, to see one person struggle to make ends meet and have to constantly worry about her children, their current state of living and the way society seems to hit the poorest people the hardest. Why is that the case?! It should be the opposite and I see this in the community the I work in; it’s sad and also a hard truth to accept. I hope this young lady finds the courage and the support to move out and move up from her current situation.









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