ALA- SRRT Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force List of Top Twenty Films on Poverty

Steve Fesenmaier writes "By Steve Fesenmaier with additions from the field Aug. 3, 2005

John Gehner, Coordinator of the ALA- SRRT Hunger, Homelessness & Poverty Task Force has asked me to create a list of "top 20 greatest films on poverty." I came up with the following list from my 30+ years as a professional film exhibitor, critic, etc. Please send me any films you think should be on the list....documentary or fictional...or short...or animated...Steve
website -

1. Time of Drunken Horses - Iranian. Incredible poverty of Kurds who have to get their donkeys drunk to climb mountains
2. Los Olvidados - Bunuel film on street kids of Mexico City
3. Dancing Outlaw - hilarious/sad film on WV dancer Jesco White who is poor.
4. Pixote - Brazilian film in style of Los Olvidados
5. The Pride of Jesse Hallam -Johnny Cash stars in his best film. Poor family has to leave Ky. for Cincinnati. Also about literacy.
6. The Grapes of Wrath - film version of Steinbeck's Nobel Prize winning novel.
7. Born into Brothels -2004 Oscar winner for best feature documentary
8. Before Night Falls - Oscar nominated film about gay Cuban writer.
9. Vera Drake – great new English film about poverty- and abortion
10. Places in the Heart – Texas poverty, Oscar winning
11. Tree of Wooden Clogs – 1978 Italian film that made Olmi famous worldwide
12. Padre, Padrone – 1977film that made Taviani Brothers famous
13. The Promise – Dardenne Brothers from Belgium breakout film. Poor people from Belgium and around the world struggle in modern Belgium. “Rosette,� another one of their films also won top award at Cannes. Life of trailer house girl in contemporary Belgium.
14. Misery in the Borinage – 1933. First doc on coal miners by Joris Ivens in part of Belgium where Van Gogh was a minister before becoming a painter. True poverty.
15. Midnight Cowboy – Oscar winner about Dustin Hoffman as street hustler
16. Vagabond – 1985. Agnes Varda’s film about a young homeless girl.
17. City of Joy- 1992. Patrick Swayze in slumbs of Calcutta.
18. Life and Debt – 2001 doc on how globalization has made poverty much worse in Jamaica.
19. Land without Bread – 1932. Bunuel’s only documentary.
20. The Gleaners and I – Anges Varda’s documentary about the poor in France.


Additions from the field

1. El Norte by Sanford Berman, founder of the Task Force
2. Darwin’s Nightmare – by Paul Nuchims, retired art professor
3. Bicycle Thief by Susan Grant"
4. Dry Wood by Les Blank. Black Creole life in Louisiana.
5. A Well Spent Life by Les Blank, suggested by filmmaker. Life of bluesman guitarist Mance Lipscomb. Kurt Vonnegut’s fav film.
6. The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, nominated by Susan Upole. /
7. "The Good Woman of Bangkok" (Film / TV, 1991) by Dennis O'Rourke. Disturbing but important film on poverty: Philip Fryer,
8. The Harder They Come (about poor country and ghetto youth in Kingston,
Jamaica) - Mike Tribby"
9. Goat Man (about a poor farmer with an affinity for driving
large numbers of goats cross-country). Mike Tribby, Senior Cataloger, Quality Books Inc
10. "Mother India" 1957. (India) - Tells the story of a widow struggling to feed her family
and survive famine and insurmountable debt.- Ameet Doshi
11. "Apu Trilogy" (especially "Pather Panchali"). 1955-1959. (India)
Follows the life of a young boy and his family as they fight against the forces of
poverty in India. - Ameet Doshi
12. Dark Days (2000) Marc Singer. Kimberly Stanton"
13. Bread and Roses_ (2000) Steve Brantley"
14. Sweet Sixteen_ (2001/2002) or practically anything by Ken Loach Steve Brantley"
15. City of God_ (2002) Cidade de Deus (2002) Directed by Fernando MeirellesSteve Brantley"
16. Vittoria De Sica's MIRACLE IN MILAN. You will never forget the winner of the chicken contest. "Gena Zelenka"
17. Boyz in the Hood (1991)
18. Menace 2 Society
19. Fresh
20. Hoop Dreams
21. Clockers
22. 8 Mile
23. Coal Miners Daughter
24. Norma Rae
25. Matewan
26. Gandhi . #17- #26 submitted by Watson, Jamie through his friend Steve LaBash. Great comment – “Steve, I shared this request with some friends at a dinner party, and it stirred quite a debate! Here are our responses. First off, not putting something on there about the inner city African American experience is egregious!�

Please send your TOP CHOICE for "best film on poverty" to me - [email protected]"


Thanks for sharing this list. I do collection development for sociology and social work and some of these videos look like good purchases. It's difficult to find non-book resources sometimes, and lists like this one are a great tool!

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