Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ATOMIC STATES OF AMERICA and FINDING NORTH ~ Reviews by Kimberly Heydenberk

The Atomic States of America

Directors: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce

The Atomic States of America, based on the book: Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir From An Atomic Town , is about the United States’ dependence on nuclear power and the ramifications associated with that dependence. Former Presidents have spoken about the importance of nuclear power and that has started more intellectual talk of how necessary it is for our powerful country. What those speeches fail to mention are the health issues nuclear power causes. The documentary gives accounts of those who have gotten sick as a result of having a nuclear-reactor site close to home. One woman states that everyone on her street had cancer and no one could understand why people kept dying in such close proximity to one another. Another story is about a father whose daughter had to undergo a number of surgeries and is thankfully alive to this day. The daughter spoke in the documentary, thanking her father for all that he has done for her. I give this film a 9 out of 10 (10 signifying an ultra-independent film) because it completely goes against the norm of keeping the United States as some nuclear hungry nation. I honestly did not know much about the topic going into this film, but I highly recommend it for those who want to remain informed about the issue at hand. There are people being exposed to nuclear reactors and are eventually afflicted with deadly diseases. This myth gives voice to the disadvantaged, which reminds me of the amazing documentary that also appeared in Sundance this year, Finding North, which addresses hunger in the United States. Scientists who take the topic of exposure to nuclear contamination and hide it under the rug are irresponsible. People in positions of power are not thinking of the residents who are being subjected to exposure and it is appalling. This documentary is another strike against people in power who have distanced themselves so far away on their pedestals from the average person that they refuse to address a very serious issue. After the film the audience were given Shirley, the book the documentary is based on. Reading this book after the film should give readers an even greater insight as to the personal account of growing up next to a nuclear reactor. There is even some input from actor Alec Baldwin on this issue, which seemed like a random addition in the documentary and may have weakened the argument that the directors were trying to send to the viewers. However, the documentary is still a strong blow to people in positions of power in our government. I highly recommend this documentary to anyone, especially those who are not well informed about this issue like myself.

Finding North

Directors: Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush

This is a documentary delving into the hunger crisis in the United States. There are many Americans who are lucky to eat one meal a day. In one of the stories, a girl admits to being so hungry that her stomach growls all the time in class. She cannot concentrate and doesn’t receive the best grades because she is so hungry. Another story is of a police officer who does not make that much money so he heads to a shelter for a meal. He finds this a blow to his ego but he just cannot afford to put food on the table. Also, there is a single mother who does not get paid enough in food stamps and when she lands a job she does not make enough to support her children. All of this is happening in our country and this is a real problem that the United States has turned a blind eye on.

The documentary calls attention to the government’s lack of care about the issue of hunger going on in our country. It is a completely biased film in favor of the hungry. There is a part in the film revealing that people in America have this idea of starving children as a children in Africa whose bones protrude due to lack of food. However, there are people starving all over the United States. They may not be skinny but that is because their diet is terrible. Some do not have access to food and when they obtain food, it is unhealthy. Who will buy $2 worth of apples when you can buy 10 bags of Top Ramen for the same price?

This documentary was well done and it was clear that the two directors are making more people aware of the problem. A huge strength I saw in particular were the speeches of past Presidents who address the hunger problem but as the years go by the numbers of hungry people keep going up. Another strength was that instead of just having stories dominate the documentary, they also included the costs of healthy foods opposed to unhealthy ones. Healthy food is also difficult to come by because a grocery store with healthy food may be so far away from your home that you end up using up too much gas getting there. The directors even went into detail about how school cafeterias are on such a tight budget they can’t serve healthy food options and showed how one lady works at serving healthy food to kids. This documentary was really incredible across the board to the extent where the method of delivery was not at all preachy.

The government is not even considering hunger as an issue in this country. President Obama is taking steps to eradicate this issue, along with actor and advocate Jeff Bridges. In terms of myth, the dominant society is leaving “everyone else” behind. The gap between the rich and poor has grown tremendously and the working class is suffering. A mother was interviewed who is struggling with a son with asthma. She has to pay for his medicine while keeping food on the table. Having a job does not guarantee safety and the directors show the reality of this.

What makes this documentary so independent is that the disadvantaged are given a voice. This documentary is a space where men and women can tell the audience that this is how life is for us and that something needs to come of it. Western culture usually deems those who cannot afford food as lazy. Lazy? There are people working so hard but nothing is coming out of it. A police officer is even relying on a shelter for a warm meal. There is nothing lazy about any of this. These are working men and women who are essentially the outcasts of society.

In order to increase awareness, the directors offered up their documentary to be shown in local towns. A handout was given out on ways to take action such as sending President Obama an email to continue supporting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and statistics of food hardship in Utah. Some audience members were concerned with Washington not listening to our concerns so the directors suggested starting local.

The most powerful scene for me was when they showed a teacher who delivers food to her students’ houses. She admits to growing up without having food to eat and does not want others to experience the same thing. She is not rich, but buys what she can afford, even if that means all she gives are cookies and chips. Even though they aren’t the healthiest snacks, she says they are better than nothing. This scene touched me because of how selfless she is. She is on a tight budget and to buy food and share it with her students is really a true teacher. The most powerful image for me was of the young girl who admits to being hungry all the time. She is one of the students receiving food from her teacher. She really moved me because there was a time she did poorly in school because she was so hungry.

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