Film at Englert to highlight impacts of recession, draw local politicians


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In the midst of a post-recession economy, families strive to get back on their feet — and two filmmakers have created a documentary to showcase the struggles middle-class and working-poor families face.

American Winter, an HBO documentary directed by Joe and Harry Gantz, will be screened at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St. The film follows eight families slipping into poverty as a result of the recession, and it showcases the effects of poverty in the United States.

The screening is part of a recent campaign launched by the directors to help inform the community and state legislatures about the financial problems families still face.

“It reaches millions of viewers, but our goal is to get it in the communities all across the country and connect with nonprofits, legislators, and local and state representatives,” said Devon Terrill, a co-producer of American Winter and a University of Iowa alumna. “We want to use the film as a tool to influence police and perhaps put focus on policies that can provide more economic stability for families that need it.”

The event has attracted many people locally and statewide. Sue Dvorsky, the former Iowa Democratic chairwoman; Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville; Becci Reedus, the executive director of the Johnson County Crisis Center; Crissy Canganelli, the executive director of the Iowa City Shelter House; and Christine Scheetz, CEO of United Way of Johnson County will attend the event Saturday evening and will partake in a question-and-answer session after the film.

Jacoby, who will act as the moderator for the session, believes the film is relatable to people in Iowa and around the country.

“I think it shows the struggle of American people and that any of these families could be any one of us at any point of time,” he said. “Everyone has the fear that it could be them.”

This film is part of a three-film series in collaboration with FilmScene and various organizations in Iowa City. Each film will be free and will feature special guests from the film.

“If you look at the three broad issues — recession, the health-care crisis, and marriage equality — what better way to open up discussion than with a film,” said Andrew Sherburne, a co-founder and an associate director of FilmScene. “When the film ends, that is the real beginning of how it affects you.”

Officials encourage the community to come out to the event as families nationwide can relate to the experiences.

“The major thing is that this film will paint the picture that these families are our friends,” Jacoby said. “I believe this movie will tug on the heartstrings of people who watch it, they can have a relative or a friend and relate this story to themself.”

Although the recession ended in 2009, Terrill said  families still don’t have enough economic security. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate stood at 7.7 percent in February.

However, one political expert said he believes there’s more behind the decrease in the unemployment rate than the number of jobs being created.

“There is still a lot of unemployment, but the number has gone down because a lot of people have stopped looking,” said Tim Hagle, a University of Iowa associate professor of political science. “If you include those who have stopped looking, you are looking at a 13 to 14 percent unemployment rate.”

Although Iowa was not as hard hit by the recession as other places, people can always be found struggling in recovery, Hagle said.

“One crisis can create one setback that can potentially lead to parents having trouble providing basic needs for their family and can lead to homelessness, the water or light being turned off in their home, and hunger,” Terrill said.

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