AFI Movie Club: DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA – American Film Institute
Down And Out In America Film Still



Directed by Academy Award®-winning actor and filmmaker Lee Grant, DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA chronicles poverty in America, from struggling farmhands to unemployed urban workers to the newly homeless. AFI DOCS honored Grant at this year’s Charles Guggenheim Symposium, which celebrates the legacy of Charles Guggenheim by recognizing a contemporary filmmaker with a profound respect for democratic values and human freedom and a keen capacity for using documentary to both capture current events and frame history.

Watch Louis Gossett, Jr. announce DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA.

Movie Trivia about DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA

DID YOU KNOW filmmaker Lee Grant went from blacklisted Hollywood actress to award-winning director, making dozens of movies, documentaries and TV episodes over the course of her career? 

DID YOU KNOW Lee Grant was a member of the first class of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women? Other participants in her year include Maya Angelou, Ellen Burstyn and Margot Kidder. 

DID YOU KNOW Lee Grant approached Michael Fuchs, then-president of HBO Entertainment Group, about doing a documentary on poverty after she noticed an increase in the number of homeless people in New York City, farm foreclosures in the mid-west, and observed blue-collar jobs disappearing after companies relocated overseas? 

DID YOU KNOW HBO President Michael Fuchs declined Lee Grant’s proposal twice? Grant was in Yugoslavia filming a television miniseries when she received a telephone call from her husband, Joseph Feury, saying Fuchs had changed his mind. 

DID YOU KNOW that Lee Grant and her crew did not have permission to film in the Hotel Martinique welfare hotel, Grand Central Station and other places that were off limits? Cinematographer Tom Hurwitz solved the issue by hiding his camera in a suitcase with a hole cut out for the lens. 

DID YOU KNOW that DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA tied for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards® with ARTIE SHAW: TIME IS ALL YOU’VE GOT? Produced by HBO, the film was the first Oscar® ever won by a cable network. 

DID YOU KNOW that Lee Grant’s experience making DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA informed her TV movie NO PLACE LIKE HOME about homelessness in America, which starred Jeff Daniels, Kathy Bates and Christine Lahti in a Golden Globe-winning role? 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog.


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.  

-What does the film have to say about the American dream? How has the American dream shifted over time? Does everyone in this country have the same opportunity to achieve it? 

-What do you consider the most marginalized groups in America and has anything changed for them since DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA was made in the 1980s? 

-What are some of the primary causes of homelessness according to the film? What have cities across the U.S. done to combat homelessness? Which policies help or hinder and why? 

-How does the documentary serve as a critique of Reaganomics? 

-How has deregulation impacted the U.S. since the making of the film? What are the advantages/disadvantages of government regulations in terms of protecting the American people? 

-What is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Why was it created, and has it been effective? 

-What are the parallels between the political climate when DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA was filmed and the current environment? 

-How has the class divide widened since DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA was made? What is the ripple effect of the wealth disparity in this country? 

-How would you rate DOWN AND OUT IN AMERICA? 

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