Offering a glimpse at what it is to fall out of the middle class, Joe & Harry Gantz' American Winter whispers a harsh truth into the ear of the viewer: it could happen to anyone. The eight Portland-based families to which it is happening in the film deal with it in a variety of ways, but most wear a look akin to PTSD as they struggle to stay afloat in a society with little safety to offer those who have fallen behind. Their stories are all similar; the primary breadwinner lost their job (or in one case, their life) and has been unable to find new means of support, leaving their entire family vulnerable in the midst of an economic crisis the likes of which most of us have never seen before.
The Gantz' efforts here ditch the more lurid, voyeuristic aspects of their work on television (Taxi Cab Confessions) for an honest inside view of families struggling for their lives. American Winter began as a profile of users of Portland's unique non-profit 211info, a resource hotline that connects people to emergency services based in "health, community, and social services." While the non-profit is still a part of the final piece, the filmmakers smartly chose to follow the experience of a small group of families seeking out 211's help. The result is a film that lives on the humanity and despair of these victims--ordinary folks like you and me--who are dealing with the biggest tragedy of their lives. Depressing? Yes, but also absolutely necessary; American Winter is a great piece of social filmmaking.
American Winter will screen at the 36th Portland International Film Festival at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Sunday, Feb. 17th at 3pm and at Cinemagic on Monday, Feb. 18th at 7:30pm.