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‘A Place at the Table’ Aims for a Place in the Public’s Eye

“I don’t think any member of Congress wants to be labeled ‘pro-hunger,’” said Chef Tom Colicchio, the founder of Craft Restaurants and lead judge on Bravo TV’s mega-hit “Top Chef.” “I think that’s something they’ll try to duck. I think that’s where this needs to head.”

If his goal is to raise awareness of how Congress votes when it comes to food policy, and specifically hunger programs, then Colicchio, and filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush, his wife, are off to a high-profile start with the Friday release of their film “A Place at the Table,” as well as the launch of a national action center timed to the documentary’s opening.

The film, directed by Jacobson and Silverbush with Colicchio as executive producer, is a vivid depiction of food insecurity in the United States, and it profiles people in Colorado, Mississippi and Philadelphia who struggle to feed themselves and their families, as well as those at the local and national level who are seeking to alleviate hunger.

In addition to Colicchio, Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges appears in the film. Grammy winners T-Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars provide the music, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the co-chairman of the Congressional Hunger Caucus, helps guide the narrative through its Capitol Hill settings.

The filmmakers have recently been on a national publicity tour for the film (they screened it in Washington, D.C., on Valentine’s Day), and it opens in theaters nationwide on Friday, as well as on iTunes and video on demand.

The release will cap more than three years of work, but it is the political effort that the filmmakers seemed particularly proud of.

“It has been, across the board, a pretty enthusiastic response,” Jacobson said of audiences’ reactions to the screenings. “And I think that people have … to our delight, wanted to engage in conversation immediately after the film. And, of course, once the campaign launches, we’re going to give them more ways to engage, via social media and old-fashioned ways such as calling your congressman and letting them know that this matters.”

Silverbush agreed, saying the National Action Center will simplify how activists work to end hunger.

“They’ve never been all together, getting their big asks together and joining forces to help Joe Citizen figure out what they can do to end hunger now,” she said.

One thing the filmmakers and many of the activists portrayed in the movie are adamant about: Charity is not the solution to ending hunger.

With 1 in 6 Americans, and 1 in 4 children, uncertain how to meet their food needs, hunger is a systemic problem that needs to move beyond ad hoc efforts, they argue.

One facet of the campaign will direct people to the Food Policy Action scorecard, which grades congressional votes according to “good food policy, bad food policy,” Colicchio said. He is on Food Policy Action’s board of directors.

But not to get lost in the political action is the film itself, which tells a difficult story that touches not only on hunger but on other topics sometimes avoided at the dinner table: poverty, obesity, economic justice, the health care system, education and national security. It doesn’t flinch from broaching tough issues, nor does it hesitate to call out public officials the filmmakers think are not part of the solution.

Bridges, a longtime anti-hunger activist who founded the End Hunger Network, captures the spirit of the movie when he says: “It’s about patriotism really. Stand up for your country. How do you envision your country? Do you envision a country where 1 in 4 of the kids are hungry?”

Details on the National Action Center can be found on the documentary’s website starting Friday:

“A Place at the Table” opens Friday at the E Street Cinema at 555 11th St. NW.

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