Filmmaker Byron Hurt on His Hopes for Soul Food Junkies

Filmmaker Byron Hurt

Filmmaker Byron Hurt

Byron Hurt (Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes) returns to Independent Lens this season with his new film Soul Food Junkies. We sat down to discuss how his father’s health issues inspired him to make the film, and his hopes for the film’s impact on the health of future generations. Soul Food Junkies premieres on Independent Lens January 14 at 10 PM (check local listings).

What impact do you hope this film will have?
I hope Soul Food Junkies has a huge impact with millions of viewers around the world. I hope this film makes it easier for families and communities to talk openly and honestly about the impact food has on their lives and their health. I also hope this film will be used widely as a discussion starter in communities of color around food consumption, health, wellness, and fitness. I hope that the film will get people who normally don’t talk about their health or their family members’ health to open up and have discussions that are difficult to have with their family members and loved ones. Finally, I hope that the health industry will find this film valuable and that health professionals, nutritionists, hospitals, and even First Lady Michelle Obama will put this film to work!

What led you to make this film?
My father led me to make this film. I always worried about my dad and his health, from the time that I was a young boy. His obesity and eating habits concerned me for years. When he got sick with pancreatic cancer, I automatically looked at his eating habits and lifestyle as the cause. I also saw how difficult it was for him to change his eating habits and give up eating certain foods that were high in fat and calories, so I decided to make Soul Food Junkies to explore the subject of soul food and black people’s connection to this cuisine.

Soul food heaped on a plateWhat were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
The biggest challenges for me were figuring out how to tell this story, keeping the project on schedule, and money. Also, staying focused on the project was a challenge, especially in the early stages of Soul Food Junkies. With the success of Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, it was a challenge for me to solely focus on Soul Food Junkies. People pulled me in so many different directions – inviting me to speak here, show my film there, be on a panel discussion here – so I had to really take a hard stand and so no to people who wanted me to come to their city for a speaking engagement.

I lost my editor in September 2011 for two months and we got way off schedule. That really bothered me because I wanted to deliver this film in one year. The fall of 2011 was a difficult time for me because I wanted so badly to finish the film. We also lost funding that I expected to receive from the Ford Foundation. It was a huge blow, and I had to shift my focus from working on the film to fundraising. I think that had to be the most difficult challenge – having to replace the $100,000 that I expected to receive from the Ford Foundation.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
I approach my subjects with a great deal of authenticity and respect. I love to talk to people and interview them about a subject that is of interest to them. I believe that I am a very good listener, so I think my subjects feel like they are being heard when they talk to me. I also believe that, based on my previous work, my subjects really trust me and believe that my work has integrity, so they open up to me.

close up of buttery cornbread on a plateWhat would you have liked to include in your film that didn’t make the cut?
Oh, so much!! LOL! I really wanted to include a segment that featured the long held debate in the black community between pork eaters and non-pork eaters. That’s a huge subject in the black community and I really wanted to address that in the film. But we couldn’t really find a place for it in the film where it really fit in neatly with the story we were telling so we had to leave it out. But I really wanted to have that in my film because I felt like the pork debate is one of those subjects that is an internal cultural discussion that doesn’t get talked about publicly. Ironically, I was invited to be a guest on NPR to discuss that very topic on Michel Martin’s show, Tell Me More.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.
That’s easy. It was the first time I watched the scene of my father – who was very ill at that time – give a toast to my wife and me at our wedding reception. The following scene there is a long shot of he and my sister walking away from the on the beach on Hilton Head Island just before we learn that he died from pancreatic cancer. I cried like a baby.

What has the audience response been so far?
I’ve had several small, private feedback screenings and most of the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. I sat in one screening where an elderly black woman talked back to the screen throughout the entire movie saying, “Yep!” “That’s right!” “Uh huh.” “That’s exactly right!” That was particularly gratifying to me. It meant I hit the nail right on the head.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
It is difficult – very difficult. But I love making and watching documentary. The process of having an idea swim in my mind for years and then watch it evolve and translate to the screen is very rewarding to me. I am also motivated by the desire to become a great filmmaker, and to master this craft. Admittedly, I have a long way to go.

Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Public television is one of the few spaces where a film like mine can be broadcast. I feel like I have complete editorial and artistic control, and I like that very much. Independent Lens gives me the space to tell my story without changing or watering down my ideas. I don’t think I will find that anywhere else on television.

Byron Hurt filming Sould Food Junkies Is there anything else you’d like to share in this Q&A—interesting anecdotes regarding filming, a commonly asked question by audiences, etc.?
I think it is really interesting that every time I tell someone I am a documentary filmmaker, they suggest a film they think I should make. If I had $20 for each time someone suggested a film idea to me, I’d have the money for my next film!

What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
REST!!!

What are your three favorite films?
That’s a really tough question.

When We Were Kings
Trouble the Water
Malcolm X

What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?
Learn the business of filmmaking. That’s very important. Learn the craft by studying other filmmakers work and their process of making their own films. Learn how to write a really good treatment. Get used to rejection.

And if you really want to be a filmmaker, go for it and don’t give up. Stay committed.

What do you think is the most inspirational food for making independent film? (This question is meant literally.)
Making documentaries is like eating potato chips. Once you start eating potato chips, you can’t stop eating them. It’s the same with documentaries. Once you start making documentaries, no matter how many times you say you will never make another one – you will. So I would have to say, potato chips.

 

This entry was posted in Independent Film, The Making Of.... Bookmark the permalink.

View Talkback Guidelines >>

  • disqus_7ibuJUVVlc

    Very informative. Wonderful film. I would love to see more films on pbs like this.

  • Ange427

    Wonderful eye opening – the information made me pause and consider what has been normalized and justified in my family for generations… change is hard but necessary.

  • Eugenia Hargrove

    Excellent!

  • http://www.facebook.com/rhonda.powellsargeant Rhonda Powell-Sargeant

    This show was thought provoking. I am glad I watched it.

  • MarkB

    I enjoyed this. I hope it replays so I can get my parents to watch!

  • ayoumans

    Such a wonderful film Byron! Thank you for sharing your life story with all of us and soliciting so many knowledgeable voices on the subjects of food and African-American culture. Please keep producing films for Independent Lens and PBS.

  • http://www.facebook.com/angela.hylor Angela Hylor

    Exceptional program. Thank you!!

  • Mary

    Very interesting perspective. I enjoyed the program. One thing I question is the is the view that the independent grocers in lower income neighborhoods are responsible for our unhealthy choices. The buyer purchasing the less than desireable food is sending the message to the grocer that this is acceptable. Are they not? What ever happenned to “Supply and Demand”? We have, as a society, become too accustomed to placing blame on others.

  • http://www.facebook.com/draytonj1 Drayton Jackson

    This was a great program and growing up in New York and
    moving to WA State, I see were this program come to life for me. Where I life
    in Bremerton Washington, its mix and you have poor and middle class, and the
    food Vegetable that I get at my store are fresher then when I lived in Brownsville
    Brooklyn. Great program!!!!

  • hoodleonthehill

    absolutely great doc, but no one buys the idea that it’s racist because there isn’t a farmer’s market at every street corner in every town…pleez, fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy eating options are available to everyone in this nation that motivates beyond their two block corner. everyone today has a choice..stop blaming other people for your choices.

  • http://www.facebook.com/juan.flynn.14 Juan Flynn

    inform, inform, inform………. In the multitude of counseling there is much safety

  • Pingback: Soul Food Junkies Documentary To Air On PBS | So Fresh and So Green

  • kody scott

    Rev. Greetings Bro.Byron, caught your film and was very impressed and hopeful that its significance will impact the internal colonies(New Afrika, Puerto Rico, indigineous and Aztlan)where food deserts are implemented to foster genocide as a “safe and easy” way of population control. Shout out to you. This is Sanyika Shakur. Free The Land!

  • K Bolden

    We are sharing this film at our church for Black History Month. Easy to purchase through itunes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bpartee1 Brandon Partee

    1. Whatmade you choose the article you chose? After reading the article, what are
    three or more thoughts that come to mind about it?

    After watching Soul Food Junkies there were many ideas that came to my head but the three main thoughts were the lack of access to fresh produce in inner cities, the history of soul food, and a concern for my families health because we eat a lot of “soul food”.

    2. After listing your initial thoughts about the article, explain in your own words what the writer of the article is trying to say? What is the writer’s message in the article?

    After watching this film I think that the writer/director of this film was trying to show people the importance of eating healthy, and also redefining the term “soul food”. Soul food is not just the typical things we consider soul food like fried chicken, neck bones, pig feet and other foods filled with salt and fattening components. Soul food comes from the heart and should be food not only that makes your soul feel good but uplifts your soul and gives you a healthier life.

    3. How does the article relate to one or more of the seven course issues (politics and society; mass media and news coverage; education; health; economics; arts and culture; political legacies) in our class? What other issues in contemporary American life come to mind in the article?

    The two issues that this film relates to the most to me are economics and health. Economics because people living in the inner city most of the time do not have the financial stability to be able to purchase fresh organic produce and vegetables and therefore have to resort to eating fast food, and other processed foods that are not healthy for them and this epidemic is the reason why African Americans are the leading race with diabetes, colon cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.

    4. What aspects of African American history influence the article?

    Like most issues that influence the African American culture this article goes back to slavery because African Americans had to improvise for what they could not afford and obtain and eat things such as pig feet, pig ears and pork so they could have something to eat just to survive.

    5. What are three or more questions that you have about the article and its topic(s)?

    How do we challenge corporations into producing healthier food?

    Is all soul food bad for you or is it how you prepare it?

    How do we go about educating people about how hazard these foods are?

  • Kelsey Mercer

    GREAT FILM! I would encourage everyone, especially the black race to take the time out to watch this movie. Very informative as far as health risks. Obesity, and other health issues are a major part of the African American Race, and we should take in all the information we need in order to learn about the importance. Remember Soul Food is good to us, but doesn’t mean that it is necessarily good for us.

  • Adonis Thompson

    You are very good at your craft Mr. Hurt and I hope to see more from you. We watched this documentary in my Contemporary African American Studies class and I’d have to say that after watching the movie I feel that people should portion control what they eat and they should also stay away from sedentary lifestyes. The sedentary lifestyle is a quiet slow creeper

  • disqus_VQxXzgDkTZ

    Article
    Response: “Soul Food Junkies”

    Recently, at Austin Peay State
    University, in a very small African American Studies Department, a particular
    professor, had the classroom watch a film titled Soul Food Junkies which
    related to the assigned reading from the course text. The film maker’s father,
    Mr. Hurt passed away at the age of 63 from pancreatic cancer, which they
    believed to be a result of his long-term bad eating habits that he refused to
    break away from, resulting in his passing. My father was a retired first Sergeant
    from 101st Airborne Division and passed away from a massive heart
    attack at the age of 43. My Father Richard suffered from hypertension,
    high-blood pressure, and a bad diet (bad ass kids didn’t help) which he
    couldn’t change. He too was a soul food junkie to proud or uninterested in the
    benefits of changing his lifestyle before it was too late. Byron’s response to
    his father’s passing was much like mine in the way he changed his diet, we also
    share the same sentiment for eating for a longer life, so that we may guide and
    be witness to our children growing into adulthood. I was a bit disappointed in
    the brother for eating the turkey neck dipped in pork drippings, but I
    understand, “When in Rome”.

    I feel that Mr. Byron Hurt is
    attempting to inform the entirety of our nation’s black population that if we
    don’t change our diets and our lifestyles, the preventable health problems that
    disproportionately affect African American’s will continue to cause premature
    health complications for generations of Black people to come. I feel the most
    interesting idea presented in the movie is that the definition of “soul food”
    is food that is prepared with love, from the soul, and good to the soul, body,
    and mind. I imagine that in the years of slavery all food was soul food for the
    oppressed masses of African Americans, but times have changed and so too must
    our perception of what “soul food” means. Byron Hurts film is directly
    associated the health, arts, and culture of contemporary African American life
    and gives readers insights on food desserts, which may be found in the rural
    South, but in urban communities heavily populated African Americans food
    desserts have been the norm for some time.

    Soul food finds its spot amongst the
    most deep-seated roots of African American history and the main influence of
    this film. Soul food helped our people survive struggles and find strength to
    carry on that generations of today couldn’t even begin to fathom, it is one of
    the few recognized contributions to popular American culture. Does this mean
    that we should continue to live off of diets based on soul food recipes? Should
    we continue to ignore the health risk that come along with this diet and keep
    living sedimentary lifestyles? It is time to rethink what is soul food and find
    healthier choices without ostracism or ridicule from our own people, beginning
    with our children. This is not to say that we should completely do away with
    all things fried, candied, and cheesy, oh no, all things in moderation,
    correct?

  • http://www.facebook.com/bpartee1 Brandon Partee

    1. What made you choose the article you chose? After reading the article, what are
    three or more thoughts that come to mind about it?

    After watching Soul Food Junkies there were many ideas that came to my head but the three main thoughts were the lack of access to fresh produce in inner cities, the history of soul food, and a concern for my families health because we eat a lot of“soul food”.

    2. After listing your initial thoughts about the article, explain in your own words what the writer of the article is trying to say? What is the writer’s message in the article?

    After watching this film I think that the writer/director of this film was trying to show people the importance of eating healthy, and also redefining the term “soul food”. Soul food is not just the typical things we consider soul food like fried chicken, neck bones, pig feet and other foods filled with salt and fattening components.
    Soul food comes from the heart and should be food not only that makes
    your soul feel good but uplifts your soul and gives you a healthier life.

    3. How does the article relate to one or more of the seven course issues (politics and society; mass media and news coverage; education; health; economics; arts and culture; political legacies) in our class? What other issues in contemporary
    American life come to mind in the article?

    The two issues that this film relates to the most to me are economics and health. Economics because people living in the inner city most of the time do not have the financial stability to be able to purchase fresh organic produce and vegetables and therefore have to resort to eating fast food, and other processed foods that are not healthy for them and this epidemic is the reason why African Americans are the leading race with diabetes, colon cancer, and cardiovascular diseases.

    4. What aspects of African American history influence the article?
    Like most issues that influence the African American culture this article goes back to slavery because African Americans had to improvise for what they could not afford and obtain and eat things such as pig feet, pig ears and pork so they could have something to eat just to survive.

    5. What are three or more questions that you have about the article and its topic(s)?

    How do we challenge corporations into producing healthier food?

    Is all soul food bad for you or is it how you prepare it?

    How do we go about educating people about how hazard these foods are ?

  • Sheila

    I love this flim,after watching it,I became a vegetarian, I cleaned out my fridge and purchased the items I needed to start my vegetarian lifestyle,It was hard to give up my fav. food (chicken cooked any kinda way) but I did it,Thus far I’m doing great,I am a AA female age 53 starting weight 260 with all kind of health issues,sarcoidosis,asthma,now today makes one week on my new vegetarian diet I have lost 20 pounds.I am no longer a soul food junkie!!!!!!!!!!!