Harry Gantz and Joe Gantz’s exploration of the personal side of the economic crisis made its world premiere last month at the Portland International Film Festival, where it took home the documentary audience award.
The film offers a survey of a range of different families in the Portland area as they struggle to make ends meet in the face of the Great Recession. The bridge between the eight families is the city’s nonprofit social services referral organization, 211info, which assists those in need with a variety of essential support, from locating housing to getting cancelled electricity service restored. Demonstrating quite profoundly the shrinking of the safety net that traditionally forestalled mass poverty and homelessness, these subjects contend with the lasting impact of the bursting of the housing bubble, the stagnation of US job growth, and the ineffectiveness of the healthcare system, all dealing a devastating blow to the stability of the middle class. The Gantzes’ film makes its point that everyone is affected by profiling subjects of different racial backgrounds, levels of unemployment or underemployment, and educational backgrounds, and it’s a testament to just how difficult their situations are that these families open their homes to the filmmakers’ cameras in what are clearly extremely stressful times. While this acknowledgement is welcome, the film overdoes it – with more than a dozen characters featured, it’s hard for the viewer to build up a sufficient rapport with one family before the Gantzes shift over to a second and then a third and a fourth in short order. While effective enough to be worthwhile in its present form, a deeper investment in fewer subjects could have raised this beyond the surface of a survey treatment into a overall more affecting portrait.