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NY Times Op-Doc | Rural Poverty in America’s Heartland

February 4, 2014 by lpaters5@uoregon.edu   

I included the description in the title of this post because I think it’s really beautifully said. Although it’s called Sarah’s Uncertain Path, the description is; “Profiling a pregnant teenager in Missouri, this short documentary provides a window into rural poverty in America’s heartland.” Short, sweet, enticing, heartbreaking, and to the point in one sentence. A great example of how to entice people to view your work in only a few words – something we are all working on.

This piece in particular has been getting a lot of social media conversation, so I wanted to see what the buzz was all about. Also, I use the word heartbreaking because I definitely cried during this piece. It’s so beautifully composed, with intimate close-up shots of the families and beautiful lighting streaming through the panels of the old barn and the rural landscapes, not to mention the lovely use of sunset light at the end. What struck me most of all was the unspoken message of hope despite all odds. These sweet children with few possessions were making the most of their situation by playing the broken down piano, twirling each other around on a makeshift swing, lost in childhood and blissfully unaware of how set back they’ll be by so many of their peers living in bigger homes, with more money, and therefore more opportunities.

The documentary really peeks after we’ve met this family, been shown around and let in to the little corners of their lives, and we hear Sarah talking about her dreams for the future. Simple dreams, to have her own house and car, maybe go to college, maybe have a pool. Why is that so hard for someone like Sarah, or any of us, to achieve? As the character of this piece, Sarah paints an emotionally powerful picture of the “American Dream” that is slipping further from reality for all of us, as a pregnant 15-year-old in a broken down house in Missouri, still filled with endearing hope that her dream is just out of reach.


1 Comment »

  1. jarrattt@uoregon.edu says:

    What I really appreciated about this piece was how much it got across using shots/information from only about three different locations: the parking lot, the backyard/home, and the school dance. It’s likely that they shot everything they could at many different locations. Maybe they shot a bunch of stuff at school with her. Maybe they shot more with her while she was out and about in town. It’s interesting how that stuff falls away and you don’t necessarily need to show every moment in a day, week, month or year to tell the story. This seems fairly obvious; it’s editing, duh. Still, it’s comforting to know that you don’t need all those moments, moments that feel so crucial when your shooting, to ultimately tell the story.

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