AMERICAN WINTER tells the interwoven stories of eight families living in and around Portland, Oregon, each of whom called 211info, a nonprofit referral organization, in search of help with paying bills, finding housing, or getting advice on how to weather the current financial downturn. In addition to vérité footage of each family, the documentary includes insights from several local officials and businesspeople.
The profiled families include:
• TJ & Tara – Living in a trailer home with their three children, TJ and Tara see a glimmer of hope in their escalating bill crisis when TJ gets a minimum-wage job, though the optimism proves temporary. As 12-year-old daughter Dakota tries to make the best of things through a first foray into dating, 13-year-old son Justin worries about being made fun of at school, and despairs he’ll never be able to provide for a family when he grows up.
• John & Geral – Proud of the fact that he has always worked, John is now facing a third year of unemployment, and despairs that he’ll soon lose his ranch, the only home son Geral, who has Downs Syndrome, has ever known.
• Brandon & Pam – With Brandon frustrated by a series of close calls on the job front, Pam is forced to go to the Rose Haven women’s shelter for advice on the family’s next steps – a scenario she admits she never envisioned. Eventually, Brandon gets a part-time job he hopes will lead to something better for his wife and two kids.
• Diedre – Though college-educated, Diedre has been frustrated on the job front, and is forced to donate plasma and sell scrap metal to make ends meet. Dryly noting that the American Dream “is not my reality,” she ends up finally getting a job, but is distressed when she learns on the first day that it’s for minimum wage, giving her and her kids
few prospects for putting any money away or building for the future.
• Ben & Paula – After working at the credit branch of a car company, Ben was laid off. He’s now behind on his mortgage, to the distress of his wife and sons. Ironically, Paula says the mortgage bank explained that Ben and Paula actually needed to be further behind on their payments to qualify for refinancing – only to change their position a few months later by sending the couple a $17,000 bill they can’t hope to pay.
• Shanon – A single mother, Shanon’s debt has risen because her insurance premiums were unpaid when her 12-year-old daughter Chelsea was hospitalized with ulcers. Chelsea admits she feels guilty for getting sick, though her mom is quick to assure her that none of the family problems are her fault.
• Mike & Heather – After falling behind on their power bill, Mike and Heather lost electricity, gas and water, and have turned to a generous neighbor to run an extension cord from his garage. A rep from Human Solutions Social Services helps get money to pay most of their bill and get power back, though the future remains cloudy.
• Jeannette and Gunner – When Jeannette’s husband died unexpectedly, she and son Gunner were left to fend for themselves. Unable to keep their home, they slept in their car before ending up in a shelter. Through Human Solutions they got assistance to move into a home, though the term is three months and funding isn’t guaranteed.
AMERICAN WINTER was produced with support from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, whose mission is to transform lives and strengthen communities by fostering innovation, creating knowledge and promoting social progress.
Emmy® winners Joe and Harry Gantz are the creators of HBO's “Taxicab Confessions,” which debuted in 1995 and continues as one of the longest-running documentary series to this day.
For more on the film, visit facebook.com/HBODocs and twitter.com @HBODocs #AmericanWinter.
AMERICAN WINTER is directed by Joe Gantz; producers, Joe and Harry Gantz; co-producers, Aaron I. Butler and Devon Terrill; co-director, Harry Gantz; editor, Aaron I. Butler; music, Joel Goodman; directors of photography, Patrick Thelander and Dan Morris. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.