The HBO film "Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert," filmed in Chattanooga, premiered Tuesday night to a small audience at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium downtown.
The documentary tells the story of Katrina Gilbert, a single mother of three working to get by with a minimum wage job as a full-time CNA. Ms. Gilbert explained in the film that she never expected to be a single mother. However, when her husband of 10 years developed an addiction to pain pills, she found herself living in a trailer with their three young children.
The film shows the struggles she faced on a daily basis, such as not being able to afford her own much-needed medications after bills were paid.
One saving grace to Ms. Gilbert was the Chambliss Center for Children, a facility here in Chattanooga that provides round-the-clock daycare for mostly poor single mothers. The Chambliss Center, headed by Phil Acord, also works to give children a solid pre-K education
Executive Producer Maria Shriver said in a press release, "We all know Katrina Gilbert- she's our friend, our sister, our daughter, struggling to make her way in the world. Understanding what challenges she faces, and seeing how optimistic she is in the face of such challenges, is the key to building woman's economic empowerment."
Filmmaker Shari Cookson said, "It was our goal to create a very personal, character-driven film about one woman's story, and what it was like to live just on that brink of poverty on a day-to-day basis."
Ms. Gilbert said the hardest part about making the film was opening up her life so fully on camera. She said that since the start of the project, there have been both positive and negative reactions.
She said, "Some people said I shouldn't have gotten tattoos, I shouldn't be dating until my children are 18." However, she emphasized that most peoples' reactions were overwhelmingly positive. She hopes the film will bring awareness to the plight of others in similar situations.
Filmmaker Nick Doob said while some people had reacted negatively, most people are "very emotional and have really been touched by it. I think it really does reach people in that way."
Ms. Cookson said in the film, Katrina becomes "a real, living person who is struggling with issues that affect the whole nation. That's a powerful voice to have, and I don't think she thought she had a voice."
Producer Sascha Weiss said in a panel after the film was shown, "It's just such a stressful situation and I think that really comes across in the film...People don't know how that impact's people's physical mental health, being in such a difficult day to day situation."
Ms. Cookson said, "You see the cycle." She said every time Katrina got ahead, something else would come up that would set her back, calling it an "obstacle course."
Ms. Gilbert said, "You're running toward that dream of going to college to better yourself for yourself and your children. You think you're getting there and you've almost got it, then that wall hits you again and knocks you back down...Financially, I can't pay my whole tuition. I just have to have faith that some way, somehow, it's going to all work out."
Mayor Andy Berke also attended the premiere and said Katrina's story needed to be told, no matter what city it was in.
The film will air on HBO on March 17. Customers of EPB will have HBO free for that entire week. The film will also be free online on ShriverReport.org and on YouTube from March 17-24.