Last Wednesday night, at around 8 p.m., the Transom spotted celebrity chef Mario Batali ambling through the Museum of Modern Art in his bright orange Crocs. But he wasn’t here to see the Munch exhibition. He was en route to the New York premiere of A Place at the Table, a somber new documentary from directors Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson, about America’s widespread–and underpublicized–hunger problem.
And while one imagines Mr. Batali doesn’t know much about being hungry, he was here to learn about the topic. And he wasn’t alone. Lots of star power turned out for the screening of the film—which hit theaters across the country last Friday and is also available on iTunes and on demand—including Steve Buscemi, Jon Stewart and Jeff Bridges, who appears in the movie.
Mr. Stewart left before the screening, presented in association with the Cinema Society, but he had already seen the film, which mostly documents the travails of three individuals who deal with food insecurity. In fact, the film’s directors had appeared on The Daily Show the previous night. We had seen the interview and noticed that the dialogue had been unusually straight-faced. No jokes were cracked. Why so serious, we wondered?
Mr. Stewart, who will be leaving The Daily Show for 12 weeks to direct his own movie, let out a big laugh. “I try, but sometimes I don’t nail it,” he told the Transom, going on to talk about the power of the film. “Sometimes you see something and you get so wrapped up.”
We asked Ms. Jacobson how she felt she had fared on The Daily Show.
“I was incredibly nervous,” she admitted, “but to be honest, once Jon started talking, it got easy. There are times when the subject doesn’t lend itself to making a lot of jokes, but we had fun.”
“It was pretty surreal,” Ms. Silverbush said of the encounter with Mr. Stewart, “but I came away from it feeling excited and empowered.”
And the directors feel that their film will have the ability to empower hungry people around the country. Ms. Silverbush told us that the reality of hunger in the United States–more than 50 million Americans struggle with food insecurity–hit her on a visceral level when, years ago, she realized that a young girl she mentored was going hungry.
It took three years to make A Place at The Table, whose executive producer is Tom Colicchio, the chef and restaurateur who owns a number of elegant eateries throughout the country and happens to be married to Ms. Silverbush.
And the directors say the movie has a precedent: Hunger in America, a CBS documentary from 1968. That film galvanized the nation, they explained; the government took action by creating a food safety net and helped to end hunger, almost entirely, by the end of the 1970s. During the Reagan years, though, reforms were pushed back, the movie argues.
We asked Ms. Silverbush—who, with her co-director, has unleashed a social action campaign in conjunction with the movie’s launch—if she thought her film would have the same effect on the country that Hunger in America had on a previous generation.
“I know that it will,” she said, without hesitation.
After the screening, guests headed over to Riverpark, a Colicchio outpost on 29th Street, near the East River, where they were treated to a sumptuous, late-night buffet of wagyu beef brisket, Berkshire pork rack, fried chicken, shrimp, lobster, oysters and more.