Films on Poverty

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Waging a Living

Documentary 2004 NR 85 minutes. This thought-provoking documentary tests the mantra “get a job” to see whether low-wage jobholders — otherwise known as the “working poor” — can pull themselves and their families out of poverty. Filmed in California, New York and New Jersey over a three-year period, the film tracks the ups and downs of four ethnically diverse Americans living below the poverty line as they face a persistent struggle to make ends meet.See Full Review

See also: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.

Inequality for All

Documentary 2013 PG 1hr 30m. Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich makes a compelling case about the serious crisis the U.S. faces due to the widening economic gap. This film is entertaining, but it also educates. This is one of the best documentaries I have seen in years.

A Place at the Table

Documentary 2012 PG 1hr 24m. Using personal stories, this powerful documentary illuminates the plight of the 49 million Americans struggling with food insecurity. It is a startling fact that so many millions in the US don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Food insecurity is an invisible, but very real problem in our country. Of the developed world, the US ranks 23 in food security.  See Full Review

Hidden in America

Drama 1996 PG-13 93 minutes. Bill Januson (Beau Bridges) is at the end of his rope. His wife has died, he’s lost his job, and he has no education or marketable skills to fall back on. He must find a way to provide for his family, but his fierce pride prevents him from accepting help from the well-intentioned — if somewhat misinformed — doctor (Bruce Davison) who treats Bill’s sick daughter. After facing obstacle after obstacle, will Bill swallow his pride and let him help?

Hunger in America

Documentary 1968 CBS reports (Television program); CBS News. A researched study of hunger and malnutrition in the United States, showing views of Negro sharecroppers in Alabama, Navajo Indians in Arizona, starving tenant farmers near Washington, D.C. and improverished Mexican-Americans in San Antonio. Includes a discussion of surplus foods, stamps, and farm subsidy program of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

Poor Kids

Documentary Frontline 2012 November 20. FRONTLINE explores what poverty means to children and to the country’s future. Link to View This FRONTLINE Story for Free (Listed by Date 2012 Nov20):

Fed Up

Documentary 2014 PG 90 minutes. The film focuses on the causes of obesity in the United States. It presents evidence showing that the large quantities of sugar in processed foods are an overlooked root of the problem. It points to the monied lobbying power of “Big Sugar” in blocking attempts to enact effective policies to address the issue. This eye-opening documentary examines the underlying causes behind the obesity epidemic, including the marketing strategies of major U.S. food producers. How did 60% of the country get so fat?  2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight, with 1 in 3 adults considered obese. Childhood obesity has become an ever-more serious medical issue in the United States. The film includes touching video self-portraits by young people who belong to the almost 17 percent of children and adolescents, ages 2 to 19, who are considered obese. The obese parents who raise obese children — why aren’t they in the least bit curious as to how they’ve become 300 pounders when their ancestors were all normal. This film is an expose of the food industry’s pedaling of sugar-rich junk food to kids and the epidemic of obesity that has resulted from it. It rightly points to the chief villain in our food choices–sugar–as addictive and toxic. Sugar is clearly added to food products that historically had none in an effort to elicit a crave factor, so you can’t stop eating them. See Full Review

Tent City, U.S.A.

Documentary 2012 NR 1hr 25m. Nearly 100 homeless individuals have formed Nashville’s Tent City, which is located under a bridge close to the city’s center.

Kevin Durant’s NBA MVP Acceptance Speech

Documentary Youtube 2014 11 min. Kevin Durant, NBA Oklahoma City Thunder star, was honored with his first NBA MVP trophy in 2014, averaging 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists on the season. Durant then gave one of the more memorable acceptance speeches in quite some time, with a shout out to his mother at the end that will surely make you tear up. This is Durant’s seventh season in the NBA, and again, this is one trophy that has eluded him on his path to becoming a future Hall of Famer. Now with this MVP award in the bag, Durant has given posterity an awesome speech to go along with it that will be remembered forever. Link to watch Durant’s unforgettable MVP acceptance speech:

First Circle

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 11m. Filmmaker Heather Rae trains her lens on America’s foster care system and the plight of children whose families can no longer provide proper support.

From Poverty to Progress

Documentary TEDTalks 2010 NR 11 Episodes. From urban centers to remote villages, poverty has become a sign of a planet in crisis. Rethink poverty with these heartfelt presentations.

The End of Poverty?

Documentary 2008 NR 104 minutes. Exploring the history of poverty in developing countries, filmmaker Philippe Diaz contends that today’s economic inequities arose as a result of colonization, military conquest and slavery, with wealthier countries seizing the resources of the poor. Narrated by Martin Sheen, this absorbing documentary includes interviews with numerous historians, economists and sociologists who shed light on the ongoing conditions that contribute to poverty. See Full Review

The Harvest / La Cosecha

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr  20m. This gripping documentary follows three of the more than 400,000 migrant child farm workers in the United States who miss out on childhood and school as they work up to 14 hours a day, seven days a week, without the protection of child labor laws.

Lost Angels: Skid Row Is My Home

Documentary 2010 NR 1hr 15m. This compelling documentary about skid row in Los Angeles finds both desperation and inspiration reflected in the area’s indigent population. The stories of eight residents outline the range of causes leading to the nation’s current homeless crisis These personal stories of people who explain how they ended up in skid row and the choices they made regardless how bad are so honest that I found a lot of empathy for them. Unexpected and magical. I never realized how deep and beautiful the human stories of Skid Row actually are. This film has really changed my thinking. This one will break your heart but is probably the most inspiring doc I’ve seen this year and a top movie in terms of inspiring change. I gave this wonderful documentary 5 Stars! It is a brilliant glimpse into the lives of some of the homeless. It filled me with empathy and compassion. I highly recommend this film!

It Was a Wonderful Life

Documentary 1993 NR 84 minutes. A growing number of middle-class women are forced to live out of their cars following a divorce, job loss or a long illness. They’re clean, educated, articulate, and rarely receive public assistance, as they struggle to survive one day at a time. This film chronicles the hardships and infrequent triumphs of six homeless women.  I expected to see a documentary about bag ladies who talk to themselves, etc., but this is all about people just like myself. It introduces us to a new sub-genre of unfortunates, “The Invisible Homeless,” so-called because most of their acquaintances do not realize they are homeless. Looking at them at work you’d never know they were homeless. See Full Review

The Undocumented Documentary

Documentary 2005 NR 90 minutes. Director Arturo Perez Torres’s award-winning documentary about undocumented workers chronicles the life-and-death journeys of Central American and Mexican migrants as they enter the United States without going through proper immigration channels. The subjects’ first-person perspective sheds light on individual motivations for the trek and the hazards encountered on their way to the American dream.See Full Review

The Other Side of Immigration

Documentary 2009 NR 55 minutes. Contemporary immigration issues between the United States and Mexico receive careful study in this documentary, which uses extensive interviews to outline the experiences and perspectives of ordinary citizens in the Mexican countryside. In examining the economic factors prompting Mexicans to seek work in the United States and the social pressures that result, the film presents an affecting look at a complex political and moral issue.

Entre Nos

Docudrama 2009 NR 1hr 21m. Abandoned by her husband in a country foreign to her, a Colombian struggles to take care of herself and her two children on the streets of New York. Based on a true story.

Skid Row

Documentary 2007 R 1hr 34m. Ever wondered what it would be like to live on Skid Row, where about 11,000 homeless live, in downtown Los Angeles? Pras Michel (of hip-hop group the Fugees) went undercover as a homeless person for nine days. His eye-opening social experiment was captured on film as he was given a dollar a day to live and had to find ways to beg for more. Pras’s worldview is shattered as he sees firsthand the violence, drugs and fight for survival on the streets.

American Drug War
The Last White Hope

Documentary 2007 NR 118 minutes. With commentary from soldiers on both sides of the conflict, filmmaker Kevin Booth’s incisive documentary wades into the murky waters of the American war on drugs, the longest and costliest war in U.S. history. Taking viewers from prisons and inner-city streets to the halls of Congress and his own kitchen, Booth attempts to sort out the intricacies of the national drug policy — and the reasons for its unmitigated failure.

Giuliani Time

Documentary 2005 NR1hr 58m. Rudy Giuliani catapulted to international fame (that had even Queen Elizabeth fawning over him) upon helming the post-9/11 relief effort. The former mayor of New York City is also credited with cleaning up the streets of the Big Apple during the 1990s. But Kevin Keating’s exposé tells a different story — one of First Amendment transgressions and police brutality — through interviews with legal experts, activists and even the homeless.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Docudrama 2005 PG-13 99 minutes. With 10 children to feed, postwar Ohio housewife Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore) has gotten used to being resourceful, stretching her husband’s meager salary to the limit. But when clipping coupons won’t cut it, she’s forced to rely on her creativity. Woody Harrelson and Laura Dern co-star in this uncommon comedy-drama based on a heartwarming memoir by Ryan’s daughter, Terry, who recounts her mother’s knack for winning contests. See also: Waging a Living.

Dark Days

Documentary 2000 NR 1hr 21m. Documentarian Marc Singer trains his camera on a group of homeless people who live in an abandoned New York City railroad tunnel. At night, they retreat underground, where they have a sense of community that many surface dwellers would envy.

Hoop Dreams

Documentary 1994 PG-13 171 minutes. The filmmakers of this groundbreaking documentary meant for it to be a short movie, but wound up weaving a widely celebrated feature-length film spanning years filled with grace and honesty. Meet Arthur Agee and William Gates, two young boys from equally rough Chicago neighborhoods who make use of their prodigious basketball talents to aim for a life outside the ghetto. But strife and setbacks befall them at every turn. Will they succeed? See follow-up film Hoop Reality. See Full Review

Hoop Reality

Documentary 2007 NR 90 minutes. William Gates and Arthur Agee’s lives are examined once again in this follow-up documentary made 10 years after the success of Hoop Dreams, which chronicled their aspirations to escape Chicago’s projects and play in the NBA. Agee, who now makes public appearances, helms a radio show and a life skills foundation, and Gates, who is now a pastor, have new ideas to share in filmmaker Lee Davis’s insightful film.

It Was a Wonderful Life

Documentary 1993 NR 84 minutes. They’re clean, educated, articulate and rarely receive public assistance. But following a divorce, job loss or a long illness, a growing number of middle-class women are forced to live out of their cars. Directed by Michèle Ohayon (Colors Straight Up) and narrated by Jodie Foster, It Was a Wonderful Life chronicles the hardships and triumphs of six “hidden homeless” women as they struggle to survive, one day at a time.

Harlan County, U.S.A.

Documentary 1976 PG 103 minutes. Director Barbara Kopple’s film about the 1973 coal miners’ strike in Harlan County, Ky., won a Best Documentary Oscar and was selected for the National Film Registry. Highlighting the struggles of families living in shacks with no indoor plumbing and enduring hazardous working conditions, the film details the conflict between the Eastover Mining Co. and the laborers determined to join the United Mine Workers of America.See Full Review

Sullivan’s Travels

Comedy 1941 NR 90 minutes. Tired of churning out fluffy comedies, Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) decides to write a serious, socially responsible film about human suffering. When his producers point out that he knows nothing of hardship, he hits the road as a hobo. On his journey, Sullivan invites an out-of-work actress (Veronica Lake) to be his traveling companion, and the pair get into more trouble than they ever dreamed of.

The Grapes of Wrath

Drama 1940 NR 128 minutes. Tom Joad, a Depression-era everyman, leads his poor family on a harrowing journey from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl to the promised land of California in this adaptation of John Steinbeck’s classic novel. See Full Review

Huey Long

Documentary Ken Burns’ America 1985 NR 1hr 30m. The world of American politics has long been peopled with interesting characters — but few of them have been more colorful than Huey P. Long. Award-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns captures the charisma that made Long the people’s politician, the “Kingfish.” This documentary explores Long’s life as a child, his ascent to power and his assassination in 1935.

All the King’s Men (1949)

Docudrama 1949 NR 110 minutes. Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford) is a model politician — until he’s corrupted by the very system he tries to reform. Based on the cautionary Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, the film was nominated for seven Academy Awards. It won Best Picture, as well as Best Actor and Actress for stars Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge (later the voice of the possessed Regan in The Exorcist). Stark’s character is based on Louisiana governor Huey Long.

All the King’s Men (2006)

Docudrama 2006 PG-13 128 minutes. Sean Penn stars as corrupt Southern politician Willie Stark — a charismatic man who wins the populist vote but, behind closed doors, is as underhanded as those he smeared — in this remake of an Oscar-winning 1949 film of the same name. Ex-reporter Jack Burden (Jude Law) unwittingly helps Stark gain political power, but it’s just a matter of time before the governor’s crooked dealings are exposed.

Modern Times

Satire 1936 G 83 minutes.  Conceived and produced as talking pictures were taking Hollywood by storm, Charlie Chaplin’s brilliant satire of the machine age was also his last “silent,” even though it also features his first words spoken on film. The Little Tramp shuffles bravely forward into a maze of technology and the rapidly changing shape of society. Although barely in control of his own fate, he demonstrates pluck and endurance in the face of unstoppable forces and poverty.



Babies at Risk

Documentary Frontline 1989. The infant mortality rate in some Chicago neighborhoods is higher than that of many third-world countries. Frontline investigates the political and bureaucratic neglect which fuels this crisis and examines how health and social workers combat the conditions that imperil the lives of poor infants.

Growing Up Poor

Documentary Frontline 1986. The children of Chester, Pennsylvania are plagued by poor health, malnutrition, drugs, and family problems. Half of them live below the poverty line. Frontline follows them through the maze of social service programs available to them and discovers what it is like growing up poor.

Living Below the Line

Documentary Frontline 1984. It could never happen to you. One day it happened to Farrell Stallings. After 28 years at the same job, he was laid off-a victim of the recession. Now he’s broke, afraid, and at the mercy of the welfare system. Frontline follows him into the maze of the bureaucracy.

Bread, Butter and Politics

Documentary Frontline 1984. National attention has focused on hunger in America after a presidential commission and several private advocacy groups reported new findings. Frontline looks at what those commissions saw-and did not see-in this examination of both the human story and the political environment surrounding the issue of hunger.

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