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February 11, 2014

Filmmaker features food, family, tradition in ‘Soul Food Junkies’

MILLEDGEVILLE — Byron Hurt’s parents grew up in Milledgeville when traditionally-prepared soul foods like candied yams coated with cinnamon and brown sugar, fried fish and buttered biscuits smothered in gravy was, and still are, an important part of the cuisine in the American south. As an adult, Hurt’s growing concern for the health of his overweight father, Jackie, prompted him to confront him on his bad eating habits, but it was too late. In 2004, doctors diagnosed Jackie with pancreatic cancer, the fourth most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States.

Byron, a Long Island native and now award-winning documentary filmmaker, hopes to bring awareness to the nutrition-related illness as he takes audiences through his historical and culinary journey in his documentary “Soul Food Junkies.”

“People in Milledgeville love soul food. There’s a strong tradition of soul food cuisine, not only in African Americans, but whites as well; every cultural background can appreciate really good down-home soul food cooking,” Byron said. “The film takes a look at the tradition of soul food and challenges us to take a deeper look at the way we prepare our soul food.”

“Soul Food Junkies” explores the health advantages and disadvantages of soul food, through candid interviews with soul food cooks, historians, scholars, doctors, family members and everyday people. The film is critically acclaimed and won the CNN Best Documentary award at the American Black Film Festival and Best Documentary at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City. “Soul Food Junkies” made its national television premiere on PBS' Emmy award-winning series, Independent Lens in January 2013. 

“I shot a portion of the film in Milledgeville, including an interview with my uncle Tony Hurt, Sr. and his wife Mary, and it also features a quick shot of my larger family during Thanksgiving,” Byron said. “The film is really a personal story of my love for my father and desire for my father to change his eating habits so he can live a long life. Everyone has a family member that they love and care for deeply who may be struggling with some kind of health issue; it’s something that transcends culture, race and class.”

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