With appearances by Jeff Bridges and executive producer (and Westword favorite) Tom Colicchio, and music by T Bone Burnett and The Civil Wars, the documentary A Place at the Table has a lot of star power to drive home its urgent message about hunger in America. But the people who steal the show are the Coloradans who make the point by telling their stories in front of the camera.
The most affecting figure in the film is Rosie, a fifth-grader in Collbran, Colorado, who talks with heartbreaking sincerity about her food insecurity. Leslie Nichols is the teacher who delivers food donations to Rosie and other needy families in Collbran. Westword sat down with Nichols and Table's co-director Kristi Jacobson to talk about Colorado's hunger crisis, what's happened with Rosie since the filming, and what you can do to help.
See also: - A Place at the Table documents hunger in Colorado - Chef Matt Selby wins first Noel Cunningham award for his commitment to end child hunger in Colorado - Coalition for Hunger will help Denver restaurants feed the homeless
Westword: How did you decide on having Collbran -- and Leslie and Rosie -- in the film?
Kristi Jacobson: We've been working on the film for some time, and we began filming with Barbie [Izquierdo, a single mother in Philadelphia] and the Witnesses to Hunger in Philly, partly because they were amazing and they had an amazing story.... But we also knew that hunger is happening everywhere in America. Not just in the cities, and not just in Appalachia, where people expect it to be happening. And we were curious to explore America. Real American cities, not on either coast, and we were doing a lot of outreach with a lot of groups on the ground fighting hunger, and around the time we'd gotten a little chunk of funding, I had been talking to Kathy Underhill at Hunger Free Colorado.
And we just needed to get out there, we had talked to so many people on the phone. And the connection that you make face-to-face is just not the same as on the phone.... Kathy led us to the Food Bank of the Rockies, over on the Western Slope... And there there were some people who knew Pastor Bob at the Plateau Valley Assembly of God in Collbran. And they said, "I know this guy, and I know this community, who are working so hard, and as hard as they're working to make sure people aren't hungry, they're working as hard to make sure they're attacking the shame."
And we'd just begun to understand the shame piece of it. So it just so happened that it was a Wednesday, and at that time Pastor Bob was having the Wednesday night dinners, and we went up there, and we visited with him, and we started a conversation that turned into a year-long -- well, a life-long relationship, but a year-long filming relationship.
You said you saw Collbran as a microcosm of America. Why Collbran and not Philadelphia or Mississippi?
KJ: I think that Philadelphia represents urban America. And I think that the Mississippi Delta is a special, unique and important place, in our nation and our history -- and hopefully our future. And I think there are large swaths of America where people are living in small towns, in communities that are wonderful and care about one another. And I just felt that when we arrived [in Collbran] that we'd found this town that felt really representative of what I believe to be America, and what I thought many Americans would also see as American.
You had such an incredible gift in Rosie, who is so candid about what she's going through. How did you come across her?
KJ: Leslie shared with us some stories about some students that you knew...
Leslie Nichols: And the impact of hunger on my classroom.
KJ: We were really affected by that interview that we did with you, and the profound impact you described. And we were back in the editing room watching that interview, and you kept referring to this one student. And I remember we called you up and said, "I wonder if we should talk to that student." And you visited with Rose's family, and we had some phone conversations and planned to come out. We'd been in the community filming for some time, so there was -- I hope -- trust between us, and trust in the community members about who we were and what we were doing.
When Rose walked in the door, I knew it was her. She was just how you described her, and she just lit up the place. And when we talked for like half an hour, I just thought, 'This is an amazing young girl.' And a courageous family, for sharing that kind of struggle in that moment. It's courageous for Leslie, believe me, for sharing it years later. What's happened with Rosie and her family since the filming?
KJ: Rose continues to have some struggles in school, but the good news is, Trish found a new job... But she and Rose, and one of Rose's sisters, are living the the house of a man that Trish cares for. So they're in a different setting. One in which, at the moment, they're little bit less food insecure. But it's a roller coaster.
LN: I still deliver food bags. But as far as the home situation, it's definitely more secure. Work is a little bit more secure, too, but there's still that need. Because like so many working Americans, just because you're working doesn't mean you're able to provide consistently, because you have all of those other things coming at you that you have to take care of, too. There's still a need, and there's still a relationship [between us] , though I'm not her teacher anymore -- I visit with them, and see them weekly.