A Place at the Table
50 million people in the U.S.—one in four children—don’t know where their next meal is coming from, despite our having the means to provide nutritious, affordable food for all Americans. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush examine this issue through the lens of three people who are struggling with food insecurity: Barbie, a single Philadelphia mother who grew up in poverty and is trying to provide a better life for her two kids; Rosie, a Colorado fifth-grader who often has to depend on friends and neighbors to feed her and has trouble concentrating in school; and Tremonica, a Mississippi second-grader whose asthma and health issues are exacerbated by the largely empty calories her hardworking mother can afford. Ultimately, A Place at the Table shows us how hunger poses serious economic, social and cultural implications for our nation, and that it could be solved once and for all, if the American public decides—as they have in the past—that making healthy food available and affordable is in the best interest of us all.
The film’s campaign has raised awareness of U.S. hunger issues, and was influential in the passage of a West Virginia bill to offer free breakfast and lunch to every elementary school student—the first state to pass such a bill. A screening was also held at the Capitol, and members of Congress held screenings in their own districts. The film has been widely covered in national and local media, and the team has raised funds for a 5-year follow-up campaign.
- Directors: Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush
- Producers: Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush, Julie Goldman and Ryan Harrington.
- Executive Producers: Tom Colicchio; Participant Media’s Jeff Skoll and Diane Weyermann; and Christina Weiss Lurie and Jeffrey Lurie.
- Impact producers and researchers: Active Voice, Share Our Strength, Take Part
The production team for A Place at the Table reports that while the majority of their funding came from Participant Media, they received production funding support from Bread for the World/Terrence Meehan, Chicken and Egg, individual donations and outreach support from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ford Foundation, Marcus Foundation, Markle, Tisch Illumination Fund, Rosenthal Family, and Fledgling Fund.
They did not name a key funding partner, instead writing “the filmmakers worked very closely with each of their funders, which enabled them to create a multi-layered social action campaign for 2 years (2013-2014). The most significant outcome from their efforts is the development of a separate 5-year, multi-million dollar social action campaign that will immediately follow the expiration of the current social campaign (in December 2014) for which they initially received foundation support.”
- Production: Not public
- Outreach and Distribution: Not public
The production team aims to:
- Increase awareness: Push the issue of American hunger to the foreground of the national conversation.
- Change the conversation at both a federal and local level to build public will for legislative solutions to address hunger , in contrast to a reliance solely on charitable efforts to combat the problem.
The film’s campaign targeted U.S. viewers, with a specific focus on raising awareness of the relationship between hunger and obesity in regions most affected by those issues.
Local leaders (within select communities) in the anti-hunger and anti-obesity fields.
The production team worked with more than 100 national and local partners, including nonprofits and faith-based groups.
How the Campaign Works
The social action campaign team reports: “we worked with our partner organizations to reach communities across the country that were especially impacted by hunger. Through national and local organizations as well as faith-based groups, we implemented a grassroots campaign to ensure that audiences could not only see the film in their communities, but foster dialogue through panel discussions. Through these screenings we were able to build a wider community of support, educate those who were less aware, and engage with audiences to encourage them to join the movement.”
The team noted that effective steps they took to move the campaign forward included:
- Engaging a third party educational distributor (RoCo Educational) and community distributors (Tugg & Active Voice) for their distribution strategy, which allowed the team to reach multiple audiences in communities across the country to build and energize the movement.
- Leveraging the traditional theatrical release (which resulted in widespread mainstream media coverage) by following up the surge in press coverage with meetings with key leaders on Capitol Hill and in various states.
- Specifically targeting low-income communities that would not necessarily have access to the film by applying for a health related grant with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which allowed them to hold free, moderated screenings that were facilitated by the Active Voice engagement campaign.
- Conducting research and evaluation related to the screenings through pre and post-screening surveys.
- The team reports: “We did not conduct entry/exit surveys at the screenings — however, an online pre-event survey was sent out broadly to communities where screenings were held two weeks before the screenings, and an online post-event survey was sent out roughly two weeks after the screening events. Respondents included both individuals who planned to attend/attended the events and those who were not planning to attend/did not attend the events for the purpose of collecting data from a control group of individuals for comparative analysis. Key Findings:
- 85% of individuals who attended the Take Your Place (TYP) Community Screenings said that the film changed their views (to varying degrees).
- Participation in the Community Screenings had a statistically significant effect on the understanding of the relationship between hunger and obesity (pre- to post-event shifts among attendees were compared with those pre- to post-event shifts among those who did not attend the events).
- The team offered several quotes from the special screenings that depict a shift in views from the audience, such as “It gave me a sense of urgency and commitment that I hadn’t fully manifested in the past.”
The film birthed a multi-million dollar 5-year social action campaign developed by the filmmakers, which will directly follow the expiration of the social action that was financed for 2 years with foundation support.
Change in Awareness
The team sought a change in awareness regarding 1) views on hunger in America, 2) individuals understanding of the relationship between hunger and obesity, and 3) the attitudes towards federal government support in addressing hunger, obesity and food insecurity.
- Premiere: Sundance Film Festival 2012
- National Theatrical Release began March 1, 2013 for 77 weeks—distributed by Magnolia Pictures in 35 cities across the US. Domestic Total Gross: $231,378
- Pare Lorentz Award from the International Documentary Association
- The production team worked with partners to screen the film in low-income communities, where hunger issues are most acute.
- An educational companion guide and companion book provide teachers and activists with additional resources for hosting screenings and discussions.
- Community and influencer screenings were held at 25 sites. Out of the 25, 15 sites did audience surveys and attendance was estimated to be around 1,690.
- Attendance at educational screenings is not tracked, as they are self-hosted, however there have been over 200 educational screenings.
- Primary site: TakePart.com/table—visitors: 646,230
- In addition to an online campaign via Participant Media’s Take Part activism hub, the film led to the development of a separate campaign: the “SNAP Alumni” project. The SNAP Alumni project featured online profiles of notable and everyday extraordinary individuals who overcame the hardship of hunger with an aim to: 1) De-stigmatize food stamps, 2) Eliminate the shame felt by 50million Americans, and 3) Shatter misconceptions about people who receive SNAP.
- Social media platforms:
- Facebook—53,837 likes as of early May
- Twitter—6,878 followers as of early May
- Online distribution platforms: Amazon, iTunes, Netflix
Notable online responses:
Working with high-profile influencers to spread the word has been a central tenet of this campaign. The team provided a sampling of Twitter responses from celebrities, including:
- “50 million Americans live on the brink of hunger. Go see @tomcolicchio’s eye opening film @PlaceAtTheTable in theaters today.#takeyourplace” – Jon Bon Jovi, Twitter
- “Bravo @tomcolicchio on A Place at the Table doc. Child hunger next dr neighbor to obesity. If compassion doesn’t move us the numbers should” – Rachael Ray, Twitter
- “P!nk, @Billboard’s Woman of the Year, talks hunger in America and A Place at the Table! http://bit.ly/1lzp6k6 pic.twitter.com/6wGavOV4CJ” – A Place at the Table, Twitter
Key Press Mentions:
- The film has been widely covered by national current events programs, including The Daily Show, PBS, and Bill Moyers, among others.
- MSNBC’s Melissa Harris Perry hosted the Take Your Place (TYP) event in New Orleans and facilitated a panel discussion that included the head of NOLA’s health department Karen DeSalvo among others.
- Brownsville TYP got a feature in the Brownsville Herald and a spot on Action 4 News. Fresno Bee had a feature on TYP and several local TV spots about TYP events in partnership with Fresno Grizzlies.
Change in Behavior
- A primary goal in the community screenings was to generate a dialogue between members of the anti-hunger and anti-obesity movements — groups which were not particularly connected prior to the screenings.
- Researchers reported: Individuals who attended the Community Screenings were significantly more likely than those who did not attend to engage in dialogue and participation around food insecurity, hunger and obesity in the weeks following the community screening event.
- The team also noted a change in life circumstances for one of the documentary subjects: Barbie Izquierdo received a full scholarship and grant to continue her activism.
- The film was designed to encourage legislative action related to hunger
The team reported: “The support from political leaders and the development of campaigns as a result of the film was unprecedented. For example, the film played a role in the passage of West Virginia’s ‘Feed to Achieve’ Act: West Virginia Senate Majority Leader John Unger sponsored the Feed to Achieve act on March 27, 2013, weeks after screening A Place at the Table. Unger said the film ‘directly influenced’ his support of and commitment to the Feed to Achieve bill.” Feed to Achieve was passed by a nearly unanimous Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on May 9, 2013, making West Virginia the first state in the country to offer free school breakfast and lunch to every elementary school student. The bill is a public/private partnership, where a combination of additional federal funding and private donations and grants pay for the expanded nutrition program.”
The campaign also inspired other local policy initiatives: activists in Brownsville used their event to support a local living wage campaign, and in Baltimore, connected their TYP event to paid sick leave and minimum wage campaigns. Stephen Baldridge kicked off the Okmulgee Oklahoma event with a Mayoral proclamation Take Your Place Community Action Campaign Day; the Mayor of Bakersfield, CA, did a Hunger Action Month mayoral proclamation to kick off the screening event. Harrison, AR, mayor, Jeff Crockett, attended and spoke at an obesity conference as part of the TYP activities (A Place at the Table was screened at the event) ; Congressman McGovern attended and spoke at the Holyoke, MA event; Congressman Donald M. Payne Jr. attended an event hosted by the YMCA of Newark and spoke up during the discussion; Senator Sara Howard attended the TYP event in Omaha, NE in support of efforts to support low income families with better benefits; Omaha followed up their event with info on a new “cliff effect” bill being proposed in the state.
This film campaign did not target corporate actors.
A Place at the Table became a resource for anti-hunger related organizations to raise awareness and rally constituents:
- An online national action center was launched to support the film’s social action campaign. The national action center highlighted the work of over 100 organizations, which submitted actions that individuals seeking to be more engaged locally could take. Through the 100 organizations, over 300 actions are available in geographically dispersed areas.
- In addition, the film catalyzed the formation of local organizations:
- Hawaii Hunger Project launched in Oahu
- Bay Area Food Bank in Alabama launched a backpack program at the elementary school in Evergreen Alabama