Doc Review #1: “The Human Experience”

The Human Experience poster

Runtime: 90 minutes

Currently on Netflix: No

Currently on Indieflix: No

IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1252298/

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctyX5ItSQEI

 

For the first ever BSB documentary review I thought I’d write about one that is very special and dear to us: The Human Experience, a film about looking past any problems we as humans face because we are all going through this thing called “life” together.

 

Brothers Jeff and Cliff had an abusive past with an alcoholic father, and though they remember happy points throughout their childhood they seem to have missed out on the basic support system that a family is meant to provide. They live at the St. Francis House in Brooklyn, a men’s shelter meant to provide a structured haven of support, with their friends Matthew and Michael. They decide to film this documentary to answer the question, “where are we as humans going and why;” knowing that the only way to answer this question is to go out and actually visit people from various walks of life, they choose three lifestyles to follow: the homeless of New York City, a group of surfers who do international volunteer work, and the lepers of a colony in Ghana.

 

The two brothers have different feelings about spending several nights as a homeless person– several nights, I might add, that happened to be during a record-breaking cold stretch. Cliff is freezing, uncomfortable, and bored, whereas Jeff takes a more optimistic approach, looking at the cold as a sacrifice he’s willing to make to gain knowledge about this group of people. They interview several of New York’s homeless, who show them how to make shelter out of cardboard boxes and where the best places to sleep are.

 

Their second adventure takes them to Peru with a group called Surf for the Cause, a small group of surfers who seek out killer waves in poverty-stricken communities around the world. Jeff and Cliff worked at a clinic for children who are abandoned or who can not afford necessary medical treatments and, of course, quickly discovered which child was their favorite (reminiscent of our time in the day care centers in Mt. Vernon, even though they told us every year that we were not allowed to have “favorites”). Their big mission on this trip is to take the children to a larger hospital, and after a small car accident on the highway they manage to get them there safely. When thinking about the children facing unimaginable hardships, as well as his own abusive past, Jeff says, “it was the first time in a long time where I could feel peace in my heart.”

 

Jeff works with a child in Lima, Peru
Jeff works with a child in Lima, Peru

 

Finally, the brothers accompany Michael and Matthew to a leper colony in Ghana, arguably the ultimate image of a community of dispair and pain. The lepers, ostracized by their family and friends because of their culture’s belief that they are cursed, teach the boys that “even in the deepest suffering there is significance, there is a meaningful process of positive possibilities.” They then travel on to a community of people with AIDS where Michael, whose mother died of the disease when he was just nine years old, faces the fact that he never got to talk to her about it and overcomes this burden by realizing that though the people in this community are poor and a few short years from death, they are still happy because they have faith, friends and family.

 

The reason I love this documentary so much is because everyone can relate to it. Everyone has some sort of problem they are facing or trial that lies ahead; for me, that trial is moving 2300 miles from home to begin four grueling years in medical school while also joining the Air Force. My trial comes with a set of unique problems– doubting that I can make it through school, having to leave my family and girlfriend, wondering if I will fall victim to the depression and other stress-induced health problems associated with medical school– but even with these problems looming in the distance and getting closer by the second this film reminds me that I am not the only person in the world with problems. More importantly, however, it reminds me that everyone has their own path to take in life, and that these obstacles shouldn’t be seen as problems but rather as small bumps in the path that will make me stronger.

 

In examining my own problems I realize that I have it pretty well off compared to a lot of people in the world, and that if I have these relatively easy problems to deal with maybe I should help others who are facing problems far worse than mine (joining the military and becoming a doctor, though difficult, do not nearly compare to having leprosy and being shunned by my family and friends). After all, we’re all just floating on a big blue and green rock together— why not help one another out?

 

Prior to our own journey to live as immigrant farm workers, we watched several documentaries to determine the style that our own would take on. The Human Experience stuck with us for a long time, and we based the structure of our film off of it: one segment of our journey followed by a segment of interviews with experts (in the case of The Human Experience, these experts included an actor, scientist, artist, activist, traveler, advocate, crusader, cleric, priest, rabbi, and “philosopher king.”).

 

This documentary has won several national and international awards, and even though it was never a Sundance-sweeping blockbuster it is a film that I think everyone should watch at some point in their life, especially during a period of transition.

 

Cinematography: 7/10 Loved most of the camera shots, however the extreme close ups during interviews get old pretty quickly. I would have rather seen a mix of close and medium distance angles in these instances. But the shots of the landscape and travel were outstanding.

Soundtrack: 9/10 Excellent, moving music that fit well with the footage being shown.

Editing: 8/10 Ever since editing our film I have become more aware and nit-picky about editing mistakes, so there were a few parts that irked me; for example, in the middle of a conversation with several homeless in a soup kitchen the footage fades and a random quote appears on the screen, then the conversation resumes. However, the color and sound editing were very good, the overall footage sequence flowed pretty well, and I thought that having the interviews with the “experts” in black and white was a creative way to differentiate them from their journey.

Impact: 9/10 Like I said earlier, this is a great film to watch during a transition period in life because it encourages the viewer to step back and look at the big picture and realize that their problems are solvable.

Overall: 8.25/10. This is one of my favorites because the message is bigger than your job, race, creed, lifestyle or gender. No matter what life you lead, you can learn something from this movie.

 

Remember, we love discussion about movies! If you have an opinion about this film, or know of a documentary we should review, email us at bsberries@gmail.com or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

 

-Scott Hines

Scott Hines is a Director for Blood, Sweat and Berries.

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The Hole in Healthcare Coverage: States’ Rejection of Medicaid Expansion

Almost a year ago, I was working as a research intern at the National Institute of Health. It was during my lunch break when my friend and coworker peered over her smartphone to announce to the table that the Supreme Court had upheld the Affordable Care Act. Many of us had followed the debates and controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act since President Obama signed it into law in 2010. And for the rest of the day, the excitement in the building was palpable as news of the ruling spread.

Ideally, the Affordable Care Act was indeed something to be excited about. It eliminates many gaps in healthcare, particularly amongst the uninsured. Notable changes to insurance coverage includes young adults’ eligibility to join their parents health plans, an end to exclusion of children and adults with pre-existing conditions, and a prohibition of lifetime or annual limits on benefits.

However, the Supreme Court ruling also struck down the law’s mandated expansion of Medicaid, a loophole that some states are now exploiting. With Wisconsin as the latest state legislature to reject the proposed Medicaid expansion, many of the country’s citizens with the lowest incomes would be among those left uninsured.

aviary-21
A handy illustration of how the hole created by rejection of Medicaid expansion would lie directly under the poorest.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker cited “fiscal uncertainty coming out of Washington, D.C.” among the reasons for his opposition to the Medicaid expansion, but Democrats view the act as another ploy in the GOP’s continued resistance of “Obamacare.” You can check where your state currently stands using this interactive map.

Regardless of the reasons, states like Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri, along with their rejection of Medicaid expansion limit the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act. Their resistance also burdens those who are the poorest. And such effects illustrate a dire failure in our basic responsibility to care for those most in need.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

“Celebrating” World Hunger Day

“There are starving children in Africa.”

That was the phrase I’d hear as a child if I didn’t want to finish a meal. The lesson I suppose being to be grateful for what you’ve got. It speaks to a deeper truth, though. While our personal food wastage, the level of which can sometimes be staggering, is a symptom of the problem, the root cause is an inequality of global food supply. Studies by the World Bank have shown there is enough food being produced worldwide to support a global population, and even create up to a 50% surplus if you look at the total yields before food storage issues and crop spoilage. Why then do one in eight people on this planet live their lives malnourished?

On May 28th we celebrated World Hunger Day. Celebrated? Poor word choice. Acknowledged? Highlighted? Called attention to the inequality of global food supply and raised awareness of the ongoing issue of global hunger? Better.

malnutrition

So what to do about this inequality? In the United States, less than one percent of the foreign aid budget is spent on improving nutrition. The irony there, though, is that the most value for our dollar could be garnered by spending it on just that. Annually, 2.5 million children are dying worldwide due to inadequate nutrition. That’s fully one third of all preventable childhood deaths. And that number just speaks to mortality, not to those children whose growth is retarded or who suffer lifelong damage due to malnutrition. This is where aid should be going. Preventing those losses would lead to stronger, healthier workforces as those children mature, and would increase the benefits of aid given at different levels.

In America, programs designed to improve child nutrition have seen significant success over the last 50 years. These programs, largely introduced through school meals, have traditionally focused more on under­-nourishment. Now there’s a shift to combating mal-nourishment. It’s an important distinction and a different gradient on the scale of poor nutrition. The difference between not having enough to eat, and not eating well. Quantity must definitely be addressed, especially in developing nations where famines can still wreak havoc, but quality must follow soon after, or better yet be tied in.

We have a duty here to combat global malnutrition, but the fight doesn’t begin outside of our borders. It’s merely a continuation.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Takeaways from the Live Below the Line Challenge

It’s a funny thing, taking part in a challenge like Live Below the Line. My sister Jeca, who took part as well, wondered at the beginning about whose awareness we were raising. She pointed out that the people taking part would all be people who were already aware. And in many cases, had also experienced some sort of deprivation. For her, whilst traveling in Kenya and Tanzania, for my girlfriend Steph, as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia for two years, and for me during various points of my travels through India. She didn’t mean it in a negative way, more in a “How do we really get the point across?” kinda way.

And in answer to that, all I can say is that it was eye-opening for me. I vacillated throughout the week on the difficulty of the challenge and the perspective I was supposed to be gaining. Certain days the difficulty wasn’t in the amount of food, or even the quality of what we were consuming. It was just the longing for supplemental things. A piece of fruit. A salad. Some juice. Heck, maybe even candy when we went to the cinema. Other days though there was a noticeable adverse reaction. Trying to maintain our normal lifestyle, like on Wednesday being on my feet for five hours at work, cycling around town, swimming at the gym, hot yoga in the evening… On that day I, and Steph, both felt the effects.

I read about other participants in the Challenge and there were a lot of similar comments. People crashing early in the evenings and going to bed, reducing or eliminating their workout routines, generally slowing down through the week.

And therein was the biggest take-away for me. Surviving on $1.50 a day, if you adapt your lifestyle to suit, is do-able. Perhaps not easy, but do-able. However, maintaining a normal active lifestyle is increasingly difficult. And for those who actually reside below the extreme poverty line, there’s no choice in the matter. For those at that level, there isn’t the option to take it easy one day. To reduce the routine. Because the routine is survival, and the attempt to maintain even their small amount of income.

So in the end, I did gain a little more awareness. And the hope is that those we talked to, and those who followed Jeca, Steph, and I as we took on the Challenge, will have lived vicariously through us. Maybe it will have given them pause for a moment, to think about the issue, and who knows? Maybe next year a few of them will take up the Challenge.

We’re not looking to change the world today. Just trying to make certain we’re on the right path.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Living Below the Line: Challenge Accepted

Editor’s note: David recently participated in the Live Below the Line Challenge. Read on about his week below (and be grateful keeping your pantry unblocked).

Day 0

“This one’s 86 cents.”

“This one’s 88, but it’s slightly bigger.”

“Done.”

This is how Steph and I made our way around Winco today. In the bulk section, there’s “Bet I can get closer to exactly a pound without weighing it,” and “You’re on,” and debating the merits of bananas over other fruit, and whether a loaf of bread was a good idea.

Then we went home and tried to eat all the perishables in the fridge. How are we going to survive a week without salads and fruits? Or granola and yogurt? Tortillas or even bacon? Funny the things we think of as “essentials.” Well not this week. Essentials are rice and lentils and oatmeal. Salad’s gonna be a hard one though. There might be some foraging happening later this week…

David's Grocery List

Day 1

Ran into this dilemma today, not unanticipated, but still tough: I work in a café. Steph and I had already discussed whether or not I could partake in the free meals we’re offered at work. We decided no. But then all day I was surrounded by food, and especially this gorgeous coffee cake sitting on the counter in front of me all shift. I resisted. But… I must confess, what I couldn’t resist was the coffee. I mean, I’m a barista. How could I pull espresso shots all day and not partake? I don’t have that kind of will power. Plus I’m a blogger. And if you’ve never seen me writing whilst not hopped up on caffeine, it’s not a pretty picture.

So coffee, or the lack thereof, is no longer a part of the challenge.

Day 2

“Don’t rinse that!” I called hurriedly to Steph as she started to wash a pot used for pasta sauce. She had the same thought at the same moment, and so we poured beans into the pot to cook them for tomorrow. Can’t waste anything! Even leftover tomato paste. Maybe I’m getting overly concerned about still having food to eat on Friday. It’s hard enough being a grazer, as we both are, and coming home only to see the blocked door to the pantry. No admittance. Not for the rest of this week. Drink some more water. It’ll fill you up.

It might not be helping that we’re keeping our usual routine going. Which meant ultimate Frisbee yesterday evening, and an hour long swim this afternoon, and probably hot yoga tomorrow. I might waste away to nothing…

It’s only Day 2. Get over it David. You’ll be fine.

Day 3

Steph went foraging today. Dandelions and other greens, and they definitely made a nice addition to a baked potato for lunch and pasta for dinner. Oh, and eggs and toast for breakfast. I had forgotten we had eggs we could use. Was a welcome discovery. Not enough though. We went to hot yoga tonight, after swimming for thirty minutes at the gym, and almost the moment I got in that heated room I felt lightheaded. It cleared up after a bit, but talking to Steph afterwards, apparently both of us had been seeing spots and feeling dizzy at the beginning of class.

So we spent the drive home discussing food. Saturday is going to be an epic day. I think breakfast and brunch are both happening, and we’ll go from there.

Day 4

“Lead us not into temptation…” I broke under the strain. I was feeling right next door to rubbish mid-morning at work, and the realization hit me that it was probably because half a bowl of oatmeal was just not gonna do the trick. So I caved. Accepted a free breakfast burrito. I’m not sure what penance I can do to make amends, but I’ll have to figure something out. Although it was “free,” so there’s maybe some wiggle room for me…

It’s funny the impact that a lack of certain things can have on you. Calorically we could probably be ok, and maybe if there were no other options it would suffice. But there are other options! Glorious options! My kingdom for a giant bowl of fruit. Or gummi bears. Either way.

Day 5

I was better today. Maybe the guilt/calories of the breakfast burrito yesterday served to carry me over the finish line. Oatmeal, again, to start the day, a baked potato, and beans and rice to round out the day. And an egg or two. Steph has impressed me a few times this week by creating meals that almost let me forget we’re eating the same thing day after day. A necessary trick during a week like this.

Day 6

We celebrated today. The end of the Challenge. Blew twice last week’s budget… on a single meal. Breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a Belgian Waffle. That was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the week, as I handed my card over to pay for it. The realization that we had eaten for five days (barring a slight blip on my part) on a budget of $15. And here we were paying the equivalent of ten days’ budget.

But that’s the West for you. Disposable income gives us a taste for luxury. Live without it for a time and you gain a sense of perspective.

Further reflections to follow. But right now dinner is calling. Not sure yet exactly what it’s gonna be, but I know it won’t contain rice, lentils, or black beans. Beyond that…

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

A Way Out for Global Poverty?

Remember the Live Below the Line challenge from a few weeks ago? Survive on $1.50 a day and all that? Well, I still haven’t done it. I’ve been traveling this past week, so my challenge week is going to start on Monday. Will keep you posted.

But… that’s not what I wanted to write about. Rather, the reason I mention it is that if the World Bank has their way, the Live Below the Line challenge will be a thing of the past come the year 2030. Not because people will no longer care about raising awareness of the plight of the world’s poor, but because the president of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, announced last week the goal of raising every global citizen to a living standard above the extreme poverty threshold.

It’s certainly a noble goal, raising the standard of living of the poorest. But a critic could complain that the bar is being set quite low. Those of you who tried the Live Below the Line challenge will know that those living only slightly above the line are still in dire straits. But if the World Bank is going to set a bar, well, low bars are better than no bars.

But then, even with the standard set where it is, is it even possible? Sure, you can say it’s a modest target, a somewhat arbitrarily assigned number that is magically the tipping point between extreme poverty and the less extreme version. But regardless of the target, there are still 1.2 billion people globally living below it, or about 20% of the human population. The good news however is that in 1990 the percentage was closer to 40. Twenty years to half it. Another 17 to eliminate?

It’s possible. Difficult, but possible. China alone accounted for half of the above decrease in extreme poverty rates. Some hundreds of millions of people climbing out of extreme poverty over the last twenty years. And if they can lead such a quick turnaround, why not other countries? Although we might want to hesitate a moment before holding China up as a shining example, and be aware that a large portion of this shift is due to radical urbanization, which brings its own problems, however, there are signs and trends that suggest the goal of the World Bank is attainable.

Poverty

And what then? And perhaps more importantly, why? Why should this be our concern, when there are enough local problems to deal with already? Well to answer that question, you can be as altruistic or selfish as you like. Leveling the playing field, and giving everyone equal opportunities are certainly noble goals, but we’re also all increasingly interconnected. Whether we want to be or not. Let’s not forget the global economic crisis of yesterday and today. But, conversely, this interconnectedness also means that a rise in the fortunes of people in developing areas leads to increases in trade potential and product demand, and so opens up new markets to other countries. Investing in eliminating global poverty results in an investment in eliminating local poverty as jobs are created and opportunities arise.

There has always been the disparity between the “have’s” and “have-not’s” lingering over us. But maybe if we can reach a point where it becomes the “have’s” and the “have-slightly-less’s,” maybe then we’ll finally find ourselves on the right track.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Housing Aid the Latest Victim of the Sequester?

It sounds good, sure. Cut spending and there’s no need to increase taxes. Do you want to be taxed more? I don’t want to be taxed more. Simple solution. Everyone’s happy.

Only trouble is the implication that there’s enough frivolous spending in government that cuts won’t be missed. And don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of frivolous spending in government. Or perhaps we should say “not well-apportioned” spending instead. Have to tread carefully these days. However, the numbers don’t match. Trimming excess fat from a stuffed budget is one thing, cutting away vast swathes of it is something else entirely.

And so government assistance and research programs and educational institutions are all under threat. Line ‘em up and knock ‘em down. And so one more victim of the dreaded sequester is housing assistance for low-income Americans. And by “one more victim,” I mean thousands more. In Fort Worth alone 99 families due to receive vouchers found them suddenly rescinded in response to sequester cuts. Play that out across the country and the numbers are telling.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Unveils House Republicans' FY2014 Budget Resolution

To make it worse, the spending cuts not only affect any future assistance that could be provided, but they impact people relying on the assistance now. In a struggle to cope with budget cuts, cities and states are canceling promised vouchers and not renewing others—leaving families and individuals who were on the cusp of finding their feet, instead back out on the street.

The catch though is the inevitable short-sightedness of it. Instant gratification as the deficit buoys slightly? Yes please! But at what future cost when the long-term effects of losing various programs manifests? Can we even anticipate the consequences?

As a modern, “enlightened” society, we can’t let all these people fall through the cracks. I stress can’t because it frustrates me personally to think that that could happen. But from an objective viewpoint, I could say the same thing. The United States can’t let these people fall through the cracks. Not without suffering the consequences of a class increasingly isolated and ignored by the powers that be and the trauma of an ever-increasing disparity of wealth. Nevertheless, that is precisely what we are doing. But at some point something has to be done. We’re all in this together. Right? Maybe? Please say yes.

Something does have to be done. And when that crux moment arrives, will we not think that we would have been better off giving them the initial assistance they needed to make it on their own? Rather than attempting to pick up the pieces? The pieces that we ourselves are so casually letting fall right now.

-David

 

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Take the Challenge: Live Below the Line

Next week, from April 29th through May 5th, the Global Poverty Project is hosting the Live Below the Line Challenge. What line? The poverty line. Yeah. The extreme one.

One dollar. Fifty cents. A day.

That’s what you get. And before somebody chimes in with ‘That’ll get you a long way in a developing country!’ note that the figure is already adjusted. $1.50 represents the extreme poverty line in the United States. In a developing country you might be talking about the literal equivalent of pennies a day.

Image

And we can’t even really recreate that situation. The challenge is to live for a week spending no more than $7.50 on food. The 1.4 billion people across the world living every week at or below that level have to stretch it to cover everything. So quick! Turn off your computer! Your phone! Lock your house and car up for the week and throw away the keys!

Those not caught in such a situation may never be able to grasp what it really means. How can we? What we can get is a glimpse into the lives of others. Walk a mile, or eat a meal, whatever, in their shoes. And remember, this isn’t just a problem in the slums of developing countries. Look around the next time you walk through downtown Seattle. Or any US city for that matter. Odds are you’ll see someone for whom everyday is spent living below the line.

Food for thought. But not a lot of food. Remember, you only have fifty cents per meal.

If you want to join in click here. Celebrities are getting in on the act too! Ben Affleck is in on the act! I don’t even like Ben Affleck, but hey. Bonus points for supporting a good cause, raising awareness, all that jazz.

Reading this blog too late? Already blew your weekly budget on a Starbucks tall half-skinny quad shot caramel drizzle frappuccino? It’s alright. We won’t hold it against you. Start tomorrow. Start next week. Or just think really hard about it. We’re raising awareness right?

Be aware.

Got any ideas for living below the line next week? Let us know in the comments.

David

 

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.