American Winter is a documentary feature film by Emmy award winning filmmakers and brothers, Joe and Harry Gantz. You may recognize their names from HBO’s Taxicab Confessions and CBS’ The Defenders. The pioneers of Documentary/Reality TV have now taken on a new reality – The Human Face of Economic Crisis. Their new film is a documentary that follows the firsthand stories of families, many formerly middle class, struggling to keep their heads above water while facing overwhelming financial challenges and a weakened social safety net.
The Gantz brothers have started an Indiegogo campaign to raise money to help get the film out and seen by audiences. Please check out the page and contribute if you can. Any amount will help a great deal. You can also visit their website , follow them on Twitter, and Like them on Facebook.
I recently had the awesome opportunity to speak with Harry Gantz about the film and what he and his brother Joe hope to accomplish by getting it out there.
Me: Tell me a little about the motivation behind making American Winter. Some people might assume that Filmmakers wouldn’t be affected or interested in the current economic crisis but that is not the case, is it?
Harry: My brother and I grew up in a family that always had a motivation for social justice set by my father. We felt making this film was a great opportunity to tell the stories of these families. We have been much more successful raising funds outside of Hollywood. Everyone is concerned about the decline of the middle class. We have received many donations from individuals as well as corporations.
There is a sense of desperation in Portland, Oregon that we wanted to transfer to the screen to get people to come up with a solution to this crisis.
Me: Do you think we risk eliminating our middle class all together if something is not done?
Harry: We heard story after story of people suffering and affected by the social situation. Once you hear it, you can’t help but want to assist people in some way. How do you trust politicians and economists to solve this? The problem encompasses Fair Wage, Medical, and economic development. We hope the film can become a touchstone for discussion of how to change this downturn.
Me: Has the economic climate forced filmmakers and others in the industry to handle business differently? How has it changed the world of entertainment?
Harry: My brother and I pre-date reality TV. Our experience in raising money and staying true to our mission has gotten harder. The formula and “dumbing down” of reality TV makes it tougher to get projects out.
Networks are taking on so many pitches for reality shows that after a while you get numb to it. Also, the definition of documentary TV has changed. We used to wait for the story to unfold and not create it artificially. The old days of REALITY would mean being paged when a couple was having an argument and having to rush over to catch it happening. Sometimes they would have to be separated until we got there with the cameras.
Me: Do you see any good coming out of the forced change in thinking?
Harry: Thanks to the Internet and crowd funding, yes. The Internet bypasses distributing. You don’t have to rely on one of twelve networks to buy a show. There has become democratization of funding.
There is this feeling that we are all in this together, especially with American Winter. It has been inspiring and enlightening.
The film is about people at the bottom of the ladder but people at the top are interested in getting involved to help because they realize it will affect them as well in some way at some point.
Me: What did you learn while making the film that surprised you?
Harry: Families and friends are taking the place of government when it comes to helping these people out. Some of the individuals are working poor. Single mothers, single fathers not making enough to stay afloat.
The Department of Human Services in Portland, OR is doing an awesome job getting help for the people who need it but it is a huge undertaking.
With housing, one eviction will ruin your chances of getting another apartment even with a job and good credit.
This film tracked what these families do and how they felt about the situation emotionally. Even as great as 211 and the social workers are, it is still a full time job to get social services and navigate the system. You have to call on the first of the month at 9 AM ans there are five hundred people calling for 20 spots.
Harry: We want both sides to take a look at the issue. It will take both political parties to solve this problem. People have to go beyond dogma and see that we really are all in this together. We would like to coordinate with other non profits to join together and create solutions. Its not about our opinions, its about offering the solutions.
You can help by visiting their pages, donating, and sharing the story. Start a conversation, that seems to be the best way to reach a solution. I would like to thank Harry Gantz for taking time to discuss his project and sharing his ideas with me. Let’s make sure this film gets to where it needs to be.