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Poverty documentary asks 'What Matters'

March 07, 2014|By Sameea Kamal,
  • Dan Parris and David Peterka allotted themselves only $1.25 a day for food, lodging and in America, for transportation while traveling across three continents to try to experience what extreme poverty felt like. In order to survive, they had to hitchhike to make their way from one place to the other, which they are pictured here doing in East St. Louis.
Dan Parris and David Peterka allotted themselves only… (Courtesy of Speak…)

In the summer of 2009, Dan Parris, now 29, Rob Lehr, now 31, and David Peterka, now 26, challenged themselves to try to experience extreme poverty by living on $1.25 a day and journeyed across three continents to experience poverty in each country, documenting the experience for a film.

Parris and Lehr subsisted on $1.25 for 30 days, until they were in a plane crash that killed the pilot and co-pilot, and caused Parris to be hospitalized and require surgery.

Peterka continued for three-and-a-half more months.

Their journey and the experiences of the people they met along their path from America to Europe to Africa are chronicled in a feature-length documentary titled "What Matters?" [previously titled "Give a Damn?"], showing in Burbank at the AMC Burbank Town Center 6 for one day only on March 13.

"We just wanted to experience [poverty] ourselves and along the way we met with experts to really learn what the average person could do about fighting extreme poverty and how to care for the people on the ground," said Parris, producer and director of the film.


His original vision for "What Matters?" was inspired by a trip to Africa in 2005, and his desire to introduce the issues to Lehr, who was skeptical about the ability to shrink poverty and their responsibility to do so.

"In the end, the film's storyline was flipped upside down, literally and figuratively, through a deadly plane crash, causing the film to have so much more depth than originally imagined," Parris said in a press statement.

It was in June 2009 that the St. Louis-natives, who had met in church after high school, started their project, hitchhiking from their hometown to New York, and from there flying to Europe, then Africa.

They had three rules for the project: one was living on just $1.25 a day which, in America, they could spend on food, lodging and transportation.

In Europe, they had to take transportation out of the $1.25 budget due to the inability to hitch rides, but traveled by Eurorail and as cheaply as possible, said Peterka.

Their second rule was that they could keep items they already had, like cellphones and camping gear. And lastly, if it was offered to them, they could accept only one free meal per day.

"We wanted to make the situation difficult for ourselves, but also to take the opportunity to let people help us," he said.

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