AVLF Film-Screening Addresses Middle-Class Struggles With Poverty

by Meredith Hobbs, Daily Report

Reprinted with permission from the Daily Report. Original article can be found here.

August 22, 2014    

If you are reading this, it’s unlikely that you are poor. The Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation wants to raise consciousness and start a conversation in the local legal community about what poverty in America looks like today.

AVLF’s deputy director, Michael Lucas, has organized a screening of American Winter, an HBO documentary that features the same kind of people AVLF serves—formerly middle-class American families who are struggling with poverty. He said the film “highlights the human impact of budget cuts to social services, a shrinking middle class, and the fracturing of the American Dream.”

Lucas hopes the Sept. 15 event will spark dialogue about poverty in Atlanta. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with one of the filmmakers, local service providers and community leaders. Lucas envisions it as the first in a series, which he’s calling AVLF Monday Night at the Movies. (Click here for a preview.)

“At the very core of our mission is bringing the larger community to our work of addressing the needs of low-income Atlanta families,” Lucas said. “Promoting a deeper understanding of the lives of those families and the challenges they face,” he said, is part of that work.

AVLF organizes volunteer lawyers from the private bar to provide free legal services to Atlantans who can’t afford a lawyer. Lucas has expanded the group’s reach, bringing in volunteer accountants, process servers, investigators and court reporters to help his clients.

Lucas said many of AVLF’s clients are like the families in the film: “families facing eviction after losing a job or not getting paid what was due, families forced to live under deplorable conditions at the hands of a slumlord, families simply thrown out on the street at their landlord’s whim, or families seeking protection from domestic violence.”

American Winter was made by Joe and Harry Gantz, who created the long-running HBO series “Taxicab Confessions,” featuring real-life interactions between cab drivers and their passengers.

For American Winter, the Gantzes found their subjects from listening to hundreds of calls to a 211 help line in Portland. During the two years it took to make the film, they said in a filmmakers’ statement, “we discovered that there seemed to be two separate countries within America—one that is struggling day to day to pay for their electricity, heat, rent, and food, and the other that is doing well and is not tuned into those who are suffering right among them.

“In America the recession is over, and U.S. corporations and Wall Street are doing better than ever. Yet 46 percent of this country is living in poverty, or near poverty, and today we have the highest number of poor since we began keeping records.”

American Winter won several awards after premiering on HBO in 2013, including best documentary feature at the 2013 Portland International Film Festival. The eight families it chronicles were invited to testify at a Senate hearing last year on the State of the American Dream: Economic Policy and the Future of the Middle Class.

The American Winter screening and Q&A will be on Monday, Sept. 15, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, 931 Monroe Drive. Admission is $10.

Tickets will be sold at the door, but AVLF encourages pre-registration here.