A Place at the Table [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Magnolia Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (20th September 2013).
The Film

When asked to conjure up the image of a hungry child in your mind, most people would likely think of a malnourished infant, suffering in the oppressive heat of a small African village. Very few, if any, would think of an obese adolescent living in the heartland of America. But the fact is that as of 2011, around 50 million Americans were living with food insecurity, unsure of when and where their next meals will come from. "A Place at the Table" (2012) takes a closer look at the lives of a few of these people, hoping to shed light on what is a fast growing epidemic in the States. Millions of Americans are barely scraping by with the meagre salaries afforded to entry level jobs, and when you add the cost of child care on top of this the issue is only exacerbated. With few options available to them, the only choice is to turn to government aid for food stamps as a means of support. But getting approved for them can be difficult for some, and even if they are approved the amount they’re given roughly equates to living on around $3 a day. As anyone who lives in America will tell you, this is nearly impossible.

Why is it so hard to eat right? For many of us, it’s really just as simple as making a choice at the market. Assuming you can afford to buy your groceries, thus giving you the option of selection, it’s your own fault if you leave with bags of potato chips, fatty snacks, and frozen dinners. What if you’re living on food stamps and welfare, though? That’s where the problem lies. In the last decade, the cost on healthy foods – i.e. fruits, vegetables – has risen by around 40%. The cost of unhealthy, processed foods, however, is down by the same percentage. So, a family with a strict budget can afford to buy a handful of healthier options, or they can get a whole mess of calorie-deficient foods for the same cost. Their choice almost seems obvious, right? And, yet, these crucial decisions are being incorrectly made time and again because the cost of eating basic, nutritious foods is just too high for lower income homes to afford.

Do you know what an “urban food desert” is? I had no clue, either. These are urban cities, not necessarily in low population areas, that have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Nothing. The only options available at the grocery stores are packaged and processed foods, perhaps some meat as well. One of the mothers the film focuses on, Barbie Izquierdo, lives in a suburb of Philadelphia, yet she has to travel over 30 miles each way to reach the nearest grocer that stocks fresh foods. Since she works and takes care of two children, trips to that market are far and few between; never mind the fact that she also has to rely on food stamps to get by.

This begets a larger question: that of poverty. It isn’t just that these children and families aren’t eating right, but their income directly affects the quality of the food they purchase. The film offers up some alarming statistics, chief among them that 1 out of every 2 kids is on some type of federal funding or assistance at some point in their lives. That’s staggering. Even the children who are on a federal program, which sometimes provides them with a free lunch at school, aren’t getting exactly what they need since the average amount of money available to spend on these children is roughly $1/day. Just to reiterate, the school lunches fed to children cost the school system less than $1. How much nutrition do you think that meagre sum affords?

For all the issues the film highlights, it fails to provide any resolution. They (read: the filmmakers) seem to think it’s enough to bring awareness to the issue in hopes that… the American people will get up and do something about it? I’m not sure. A few of the women are dragged around the country on a speaking tour, where they have to feel some form of public humiliation by recounting their tales of woe. But, again, what is anyone doing about this? President Barack Obama vowed to make taking care of our children a priority, so a federal program was instituted to add more money to the nutrition of our children. Where did this money come from? Over half of it was funded by cutting food stamps. The irony that is our government, right? It provides the appearance of bolstering food programs, while cutting off assistance for the same people who rely on it. Baffling, that’s what it is. Bringing public attention isn’t enough to solve this crisis because, quite frankly, it’s hard to get a majority concerned when that majority doesn’t have that problem. And the ones who do have these issues don’t have the resources or time available to tackle anything else than what’s already on their plate. "A Place at the Table" exhibits startling issues facing people in the U.S., but with no semblance of an answer to solve the problem it wraps up and leaves the viewer “holding the bag”, so to speak.

Video

The film’s 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is culled from a number of different sources. The bulk of the film appears to have been shot digitally, which provides a very standard, pleasing image in high definition. The picture also incorporates archival news footage and interviews, which vary in quality but they never have a lacklustre appearance. At times some of this footage is heavily grainy, though it seems like some restoration work was done to get it in line with the bulk of the feature. Colors and skin tones look appropriate and balanced. Documentaries are rarely known for their visual flair, this being no exception. It’s a perfectly serviceable image that doesn’t employ any tricks to look more flattering than required.

Audio

An English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track (48kHz/24-bit) provides the soundtrack. The film’s score was handled by The Civil Wars, a twang-y country-esque duo that’s basically a guy, a girl, and an acoustic guitar. Their work here is somber and a little melancholy, accentuating the film’s desperate nature. Otherwise, being a documentary and all, it’s dialogue driven. Rears might have been providing some ambiance, but if so it didn’t register much. The front and center speakers do most of the work, and it all sounds loud and clear. Subtitles are provided in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

The film might be about a lack of good food, but this Blu-ray offers up a heaping amount of supplemental material. Included are an audio commentary, deleted scenes, deleted interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes, theatrical trailer, and more.

The audio commentary with directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, and chef/nutritionist Tom Colicchio.

A handful of deleted scenes (1080p) are available for the following:

- “Extended WHYY radio show with Barbie and Mariana” runs for 3 minutes and 47 seconds.
- “Barbie Performs at The Moth in New York City” runs for 4 minutes and 47 seconds.
- “Joel Long Goes Elk Hunting” runs for 2 minutes and 35 seconds.
- “Rosie Gives a Tour of her “Pet Cemetery” runs for 1 minute and 44 seconds.

Up next, some deleted interviews (1080p):

- “Jeff Bridges” runs for 3 minutes and 7 seconds.
- “Tom Colicchio” runs for 6 minutes and 33 seconds.
- “Adam Appelhanz” runs for 4 minutes and 3 seconds.

Cast & crew interviews (1080/60p) are included for:

- “Tom Colicchio” runs for 11 minutes and 24 seconds.
- “Kristi Jacobson” runs for 10 minutes and 54 seconds.
- “Lori Silverbush” runs for 15 minutes and 26 seconds.

“AXS TV: A Look at A Place at the Table” (1080/60p) is a featurette that runs for 2 minutes and 59 seconds. This brief piece provides a succinct summary of what the film is about.

“A Good Day” (1080p) is an animated hunger promo, seemingly aimed at kids, that runs for 2 minutes and 15 seconds.

A text ad for the book, “A Place at the Table” is included.

“The Full Effect: Plum Organics Mission to Nourish Children Across America” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 3 minutes and 59 seconds. This is more like a lengthy ad for Plum Organics’ products, but they claim it’s all about educating parents on what to feed their kids. Looking at their offerings, I doubt it’s cheap enough to matter.

Finally, the theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 27 seconds.

As with all Magnolia releases, this disc is enabled with a bookmarks feature, as well as a BD-Live link.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

Overall

The film provides some interesting – and alarming – facts, as well as showcasing some of the people directly affected by hunger. But by offering up no real solutions, the end result is a documentary that only feels half complete. Until someone can truly come up with a revolutionary idea that brings about real change, it’s all just talk.

The Film: C+ Video: B Audio: B Extras: B+ Overall: B-

 


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