Local filmmakers seek to put poverty in spotlight

Contributed | Diana Friedell Kathy DeAngelo, a disability resource coordinator for CDO Workforce, is interviewed by the Rev. Dana Horrell as Joseph Stillman films for their documentary in progress, "The Faces of Poverty."

Do you work to make ends meet under the poverty line? Would you like to share your experience in your own words?

A filmmaker and pastor are seeking working families in Otsego and Delaware counties to be featured in a documentary.

“The Faces of Poverty” aims to recognize and dignify the hard work of people with low incomes, according to Joseph Stillman and the Rev. Dana Horrell, who began work on the film this winter.

Stillman has received festival recognition for his 2016 documentary “Citizen Clark,” which tells the story of former U.S. Attorney General and human rights activist Ramsey Clark. Horrell is a coeditor of the Parish Paper, a monthly newsletter which provides ideas for congregations. He and his wife, Martha Swords-Horrell, the pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Oneonta, moved to the city six months ago.

About 13 percent of people in Otsego County live in poverty, according to the United States Census Bureau, and about 18 percent in Delaware County. Nearly 26 percent of people in the city of Oneonta live in poverty. The state average is about 14 percent.

As of Dec. 31, 2018, the New York state minimum wage is $11.10, raised from $10.40. Congress hasn't voted to raise the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in more than a decade.

A lack of well-paying jobs, affordable housing and rural public transportation pose challenges to people in this area and around the country who are looking to make a decent living without an advanced education or skill set, Stillman said.

“There's a stigma on people living and working under challenging circumstances,” he said. “Many times it's a courageous story about people doing what they can.”

The men also noted that poverty isn't necessarily generational — an accident or illness of a family breadwinner can throw people into it. For single parents, the balance can be all the more precarious.

Oneonta does have groups assisting people in need, and a free meal is offered every day of the week, mostly from church groups.

“They're looking around in their neighborhoods and seeing that poverty is a big issue,” said Horrell, who has offered workshops and filmed a video series about parishes doing outreach in their communities.

The filmmakers are looking for four to six families or individuals to interview. So far, the project has included representatives from local organizations such as Catholic Charities and Opportunities for Otsego, a Community Action Agency. It is slated to run about an hour, and will be self-funded unless a public television grant is approved, Stillman said.

“The widening gap between the rich and the poor is a defining issue of our time,” Horrell said.

The men said they hope the audience for the film will include people living in poverty who may learn more about their rights and ways to advocate for themselves, such as small claims court for example.

“There's a stigma that the working poor are the takers of society, when in reality they're working their butts off,” Stillman said.

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .