This earnest, message-driven documentary from the creators of HBO's "Taxicab Confessions" checks in with eight Portland families over the winter of 2011-12 as they struggle to make ends meet and navigate various public-assistance programs in the wake of the Great Recession. Visits with each family as they suffer the humiliations and threats of unemployment, foreclosure, eviction, hunger, utility shut-offs and moving back in with their parents are interspersed rhythmically with stat-filled title cards, musical interludes and talking-head interviews with Portland Commissioner Nick Fish and social-service advocates and workers.
I understand the number of families visited shows the terrifying cross-cultural scope of the crisis, but frankly wish co-directors Joe and Harry Gantz had spent more time with fewer subjects, allowing us to dive deeper into each family's struggles and history. But it's hard to argue with the doc's larger point -- a forceful, direct argument that it's much smarter to invest in helping people in need before they hit rock bottom.
The doc debuts on HBO on March 18.
B; United States; 90 minutes [ official PIFF listing ]
- 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, Whitsell;
- 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18, Cinemagic
'American Winter' (The Oregonian, Friday, Feb. 15, 2013)