A long-form documentary that follows A.J. and his 16-year-old mother, Sarah, in the first five years of A.J.'s life, living on the edge of poverty in the Heartland of America. Perhaps Sarah's story was written before she became a mother, or perhaps she will chart her own course. This film explores her challenges, choices and options as A.J. moves through his toddler years and starts kindergarten and Sarah turns 21.
Sarah lives in a rural town in western Missouri. She is in 10th grade. For generations almost no one in Sarah’s family has finished high school. Sarah vows that she does not want to follow in those footsteps. But how will her life be different? She became pregnant at 15. Her son was born in February. Sarah has six siblings. Her father is estranged from the family and does not contribute financially. Sarah’s mother, Dena Jewell Simental, is often away from home, cleaning houses and caring for the disabled. Supporting her seven children is Dena’s “top priority,” she says. It’s never easy -- when the family has received food stamps, they often haven’t lasted till the end of the month. Sometimes, when bills go unpaid, the electricity and water are shut off or Dena’s phone service is interrupted. But Dena is proud to say, “We are a good family.” There is a myth in America: if you have a strong moral compass, work hard and make good choices, you will have equal opportunity. But after two years of listening to and documenting low-income families in rural America (for our forthcoming feature-length documentary “Rich Hill”), we have witnessed a starkly unequal playing field. Often, there is no social safety net. When a low-income family experiences a hardship or makes a misstep, the results can be devastating. Dena’s family is uninsured, so when Sarah and her siblings need medical care, even for something as simple as a rash, it often means a trip to the emergency room. Before Sarah’s son is even born, so much is already stacked against him. What will it take for Sarah and her son to break out of this cycle of poverty?
Feature Documentary In Production