My family and I just viewed A Place at the Table, and it is one of the most exceptional documentaries we have seen in recent times. The film should be celebrated not only for its striking portrayal of hunger in the United States, but also for its innovative use of networked and social media.
A Place at the Table was simultaneously released in theaters, iTunes and On Demand. It was in the last format that we were able to view it. The producers' innovative approach does not end here. At the end of the film viewers are invited to text "food" to 77177. We did and we quickly received a couple of text messages. The first explained that more messages with updates on the project would be sent unless one texts "stop." The second message asked to take action by learning more about hunger in one's locality. This can be done by entering a zip code, which is then followed by a text that provides the number of people affected by hunger in one's state. We live in Pennsylvania, so we received a message stating that 1,850,140 individuals don't always have enough to eat in the state. In the same message a link is available to the website http://actioncenter.takepart.com, which we visited and learned more about the project.
I was struck by how quickly we became involved. My wife posted information about the film on Facebook, and I also posted a note on my Twitter account. All this felt quite natural to us. And we found ourselves reading more about the film and hunger online long after we discussed it among ourselves.
As I reflected on all this, I also realized that the film is more than anything else part of a major transmedia project -- meant to cross over all possible forms of communication, especially social media.
And I also wondered how effective A Place at the Table could be in comparison to Hunger in America, a documentary produced and broadcasted by CBS in 1968, which exposed the problem of hunger in the United States, particularly in the Mississippi Delta. The CBS documentary is actually featured in A Place at the Table to contextualize the events that have led to the current staggering number of 50 million people who suffer from hunger.
A Place at the Table goes over the history of successful food programs implemented during the Nixon administration. These programs came about soon after the CBS documentary was broadcasted. During the '80s and early '90s, as successful as they were, the programs began to be defunded leading to our current dire situation. Jeff Bridges, who has been an activist against hunger since the eighties, expresses some hope towards the end of the film, stating that perhaps things had to get this bad so that they can get better.
One can only hope that Bridges is right, although there are new obstacles to overcome this time, such as the misconception that people who are on food stamps and other programs such as WIC (Women Infants and Children) are getting a free ride and that they should fend for themselves. This idea is linked to conservative views, which at the moment are so extreme that they have led Washington to an impasse. The result is that hardly anything is getting done in congress. The most recent manifestation of this is, of course, the sequester.
A Place at the Table is not only a touching documentary, but more importantly an exceptional transmedia project, which one can hope will be more than just an educational experience for people with very different and even opposing point of views throughout the United States. The documentary makes clear that the country must come together to deal with hunger. A Place at the Table explains as clearly as possible that all children must be well fed because this is a real investment in the future of the United States. With the power of social media one must do everything within reach to make sure that Congress hears our concerns, just like people wrote and called their representatives in 1968 after they viewed Hunger in America.