The critically acclaimed HBO documentary, “American Winter,” which reveals a personal look at the economic recession’s effect on eight different middle-class] American families, will screen tonight at 7 p.m. in Pollock Theater, followed by a sit-down panel discussion and free reception.

Produced by Emmy award-winning producers Harry and Joe Gantz, the film follows the families — who all reside in Portland, Oregon — over the course of the winter season of 2011. Throughout the documentary, viewers are given a close look at how these families struggle with issues of American poverty, such as job security and pride or shame in one’s economic condition.

The post-screening panel will include both of film producer Henry Gantz, as well as Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal and Sylvia Barnard, who is executive director of the Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria.

“American Winter” investigates growing issues of homelessness, hunger and unemployment, and Carbajal said he hopes the film will inspire people to “commit to taking action” on these issues, such as by investing in resources intended “to eradicate poverty.”

“We need to understand that there is poverty all around us, even if we don’t see it every day,” Carbajal said.

As the executive director of a homeless shelter, Barnard said she deals with struggling American families on a daily basis, and she said 75 percent of the 370 beds at Good Samaritan Shelter are for families.

These families, according to Barnard, do not have a “roof over their heads or a backyard to play in.” With such conditions holding such a real presence in American society, Barnard said homelessness is a pressing issue that must be addressed.

“Homelessness is not a stereotype,” Barnard said. “The face of homelessness is what we see every day in Santa Barbara.”

First-year undeclared major Chris Meade said he will be attending the event because the film encourages the audience to empathize with the struggles facing many everyday Americans.

“It is relevant to the struggles that we’ve all faced over the last few years,” Meade said. “Even if people didn’t face the same types of hardship, this allows them to empathize with those who did … It shows solidarity; it shows that we all have struggles and are all equal.”

Tonight’s screening is sponsored by the Carsey-Wolf Center, Fund for Santa Barbara, Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County and FoodBank of Santa Barbara County.

 A version of this article appeared on page 1 of Tuesday October 15th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.