When you think about DC’s food scene, what comes to mind?  High-end restaurants like Komi and minibar? Burgers and cupcakes as far as the eye can see?  Food trucks?

Whatever your answer, there’s a pretty good bet it wasn’t “hot dog vendors.”  Though you can still find them on many street corners downtown, the once ubiquitous metal carts/stands are having a hard time competing in an age of creative, mobile cuisine.  For their owners, the situation is growing increasingly dire.

This is the world that Laura Waters Hinson and Kasey Kirby found in 2009 when they began filming for “Dog Days,” a documentary focused on one man’s attempt to bring flavor and variety to the stagnant cart scene.  Over the past four years, they have followed Coite Manuel of Food Chain DC as he tried to offer creative food products like jerk chicken to stationary cart vendors for sale alongside their traditional hot dogs and half smokes.  Now, four years later, the story is just about ready to be told.

There’s only one problem: the duo is looking at significant costs for post-production and they have already financed the project out of their own pockets up to this point.  So they’ve turned to Kickstarter to raise the $30-$70,000 necessary to complete the documentary and begin the process of getting it into theaters and film festivals.  And that means you can help.

Find out how to get involved (and what’s in it for you) after the jump.

 

When I spoke with Laura Waters Hinson yesterday, she gave me some insight into the  story that “Dog Days” will tell.  As you’ll see in the trailer (available on the Kickstarter site), the film focuses on Coite Manuel’s work and the way it evolved over the past four years.  Frustrations with DC’s ongoing moratorium on new hot dog vending licenses, cart storage requirements and the ways they are used to enforce uniformity of product offerings, and the “dirty-water dog” stigma that the stationary carts face are all seen from the perspective of Manuel and Siyone, an Eritrean refugee who was one of the first vendors to embrace Manuel’s attempt to bring variety to the scene.

I asked Hinson what drew her to the subject, and she said that when they first started following Manuel, there was a belief that the city’s moratorium on hot dog cart licenses was about to be significantly revised or even lifted.  Four years later, it’s still in place.  The story evolved to focus on the struggles of the cart community, many of whom are immigrants who were drawn to the carts as an entrepreneurial opportunity with a relatively low economic barrier to entry.  But the dual pressures from a vibrant food truck scene and a tightly controlled supply chain are making it harder and harder for these smallest of business owners to continue to make a profit.

Kickstarter, for those unfamiliar with the site, is a way for creative projects to crowdsource funding.  It connects artists, writers and designers with individuals all over the world and allows them to make a pitch for support.  The artist sets the fundraising goal, rewards for pledges and timeline for their campaign, and if the goal is met everyone who pledged support is charged and receives their respective rewards.  If the goal is not met, nothing changes hands.  To date, more than $500 million has been raised for projects through Kickstarter.

In this case, Laura and Kasey set a goal of $30,000 (the minimum amount they believe they will need to finish the film) and a month in which to raise it.  With nine days to go, they are more than 60% of the way to their goal, but they still need more than $11,000 to succeed.

You can help with a donation with a pledge of as little as one dollar, but the rewards start to kick in at $5 (a special thank you on the movie’s website).  Additional rewards accrue at $15 and $30, and a pledge of $50 will get your name into the credits of the film itself and a DVD of the movie.  Those who donate $100 or more can receive an invitation to the film’s premiere.  And for those who are motivated to give even more can earn significant perks at the $1000, $2500 and $5000 sponsorship levels, each of which is tightly capped to preserve the exclusivity of the rewards.

Hinson is very complimentary of the Kickstarter experience, even though there’s a chance “Dog Days” could still fall short of its goal and not receive any of the funds pledged so far.  She describes it as a phenomenal idea, a way to created a built-in, invested fan base for a project that connects you with people you would never otherwise meet.

Check out “Dog Days” on Facebook and visit their Kickstarter page.  Then, if you think this story is worth telling, think about how much money you’ve spent at food trucks lately and pledge some portion of that to help tell it.  Consider it a healthier alternative than going back to hot dogs and half-smokes for lunch.

 

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