The Deal With Documentaries: ‘American Winter’ delves into the aftermath of the Great Recession

The 2013 documentary explores the trials and tribulations of the middle class, which are still relevant in the age of Donald Trump.


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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that as humans, our base necessities are food, water, warmth and rest. Before people can focus on fulfilling relationships and feelings of belonging, they must have security in their basic necessities. Many of us easily take these needs for granted. If you live on campus, you have heat, water, warmth and a bed to rest in, with the maintenance of those facilities guaranteed.

So what happens when striving to meet those needs becomes what your life revolves around?

The documentary American Winter follows eight different families in Portland, Oregon, after the Great Recession, that find themselves struggling to live for the first time in their lives. This documentary provides needed insight into how quickly the world can change and how sometimes things really are not in your control.

Each of the families reached out to the area’s 211 help line, which is designated to assist families in finding community resources to get them through any type of crisis.

The film opens with one family talking about the experience of having the heat shut off. Another family had to explain to their young children why the electricity was off. Some Americans in 2011 had to apply for unemployment and deal with the struggles that would arise when their unemployment benefits ran out.

The subjects featured in the film never thought they would be in the situation they were placed in. They had been financially stable, and some even described themselves as being well-off. As waves of layoffs rolled through America in 2011, people were thrown into unfamiliar and scary circumstances. Most never had to deal with these issues until the recession, but once it hit, they all found just how unforgiving the world can be to the middle class.

While watching this documentary, parallels can be drawn between the financial situation of 2011 and the need for government assistance in the current political atmosphere. After being sworn in last weekend, America’s 45th president now takes on the task of helping people in the same situation as the families profiled in American Winter. Despite campaign promises to the contrary, Donald Trump is not one who, on the surface, appears to understand the struggles of the middle class. This has lead to outrage across the country.

Through confirmation hearings and public appearances, his flaws and government inexperience have become apparent. For instance, his nominee for Secretary of Education has made headlines for her lack of knowledge about the public school system. Decisions like this worry many people.

Right now, America is in a time of transition and is struggling to thrive, which is exactly what, on a smaller scale, American Winter is about. The film captures the vulnerability of those going through hardship and provides a firsthand view of how quickly socioeconomic situations can change. It shines light on an ever-relevant struggle: the struggle of the middle class.

MOVE gives American Winter 4 out of 5 stars

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