Homeless Film Festival Coming to Philadelphia
In “Pressure,” a short film by Scott Davidson, a series of people living on the streets recite the lyrics of “Under Pressure,” by Queen and David Bowie. The succession of pleading faces asks: “Why can’t we give ourselves on more chance?/ Why can’t we give love?/Love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night/Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves …”
“Charles and Guy,” sees a man begging for change on Columbus Boulevard strangely break into “God Bless America.”
Then in “Fragile,” a woman revisits the childhood home she fled 25 years ago after suffering abuse that she describes succinctly: “You wouldn’t treat a dog like that.”
These are just some of the people and their stories that will be featured in “Homeless Has a Name,” a showcase of documentary-style short films about homelessness that hopes to raise awareness about the issue. Homeless people are often treated as if they are invisible, but the stories they have to tell are often striking and compelling. This showcase will offer a place to tell them.
Depaul House, an international homeless advocacy group with a local branch in Germantown, will host “Homeless Has a Name” on October 16, 2012 at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia. The birth of the film festival resulted from “Shooting Back,” the organization’s 2011 project in which residents took photos and wrote essays about their lives.
“The guys really enjoyed seeing their stuff on the walls and getting attention for it,” said Sandra Guillory, program director for the organization.
Guillory added that discussions about homelessness are often between service providers and advocates–not the homeless individuals themselves. But for those who may have become desensitized to seeing homelessness on a regular basis, using creative methods to educate them may be more efficient.
“Art is a way to bring in other people who don’t necessarily think about this problem,” Guillory said.
“House” is a film by JoLynne Bremmer, a web content producer and editor at Arcadia University who made a film about One Step Away, Philadelphia’s street newspaper. The film chronicles the lives of four individuals who worked with One Step Away: Rosa and Stephanie Bermudez, a mother and her partially-blind 13-year-old daughter who lived at the Woodstock Family Center after a series of unfortunate events led them there; Claudell Edwards, a resident at Ridge Center who resisted going to a shelter for a long time; and Robertus Duncan, another resident at Ridge Center whose home was wrongfully taken by the city.
“It was this group of men and women really stepping up and taking ownership over their lives and putting themselves in situations where it was going to take them somewhere else,” Bremmer said.
Three One Step Away vendors Neal McLaurin, Shadeena Butler-Reed, and Calvin Helton are stepping up as judges for the “Homeless Has a Name” film festival.
Neal is an aspiring actor who obtained a yearlong scholarship to study at Freedom Theatre. He studies theatre at community college and will be transferring to Temple University to study theatre in the fall.
“Because of my being introverted and my vocabulary, theatre allowed me to become
more of a people person. I’m not afraid to speak to people. It brought me out of my shell,” Neal said. “All the emotions in society you’re not allowed to use, in theatre you’re allowed to use.”
His love of theatre extends beyond the classroom; Neal can be seen reciting Shakespearean monologues on the subway.
“I am in a transition of struggling in certain ways,” said Neal, “but if I keep going, there will be success at the end of it, I need to remind myself of it.”
Neal plans to audition for “The Merchant of Venice” and will soon premiere in a one-man show. He will be playing Othello in a local production of “Othello.”
Shadeena Butler-Reed was born and raised in West Philadelphia’s Millcreek Section. She spent her early childhood years in placement and foster care and attended the Philadelphia public school system. Shadeena became homeless last year at the age of 19. While she was homeless, Shadeena moved from house to house, and even lived in her boyfriend’s car. She is now living with her mother and working as a vendor and poetry writer for One Step Away.
Calvin Helton Sr. was born and raised in South Philly’s Greys Ferry Section. He spent his childhood in foster care and attended Philadelphia’s public school system. At the age of 57, Calvin became homeless for the first time last year. He lived in the shelter system until 2012, when he used his earnings from distributing One Step Away to pay for housing. Calvin works as both a vendor and a writer for One Step Away.
“Fragile,” shot by Anders Lindwall and Ricky Staub of the Neighborhood Film Company is a four-and-a-halfminute promotional video for Project H.O.M.E, which also serves as the woman’s residence.
Many of the films Guillory received thus far are person-on-the-street interviews or ones documenting an individual’s physical and emotional journies.
“I’m excited to see what people produce for this,” Guillory said.
Earlier this year, nineteen short films were submitted from across the nation and from the United Kingdom to compete for the festival’s grand prize of $1,500. The coordinating committee for the event included staff from Depaul USA, Bethesda Project, One Step Away and Project HOME in a unique crossagency collaboration. A speaker’s panel moderated by NBC10’s Lu Ann Cahn and featuring University of Pennsylvania Professor Dennis Culhane–the nation’s leading researcher on homelessness– will follow the film showcase. The panel includes Jane Vincent, the regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); Ned Eckhardt from Rowan University and author of Documentary Filmmakers Handbook; philanthropist Teresa Araco Rodgers; and peer support specialist Ben Mitchell.
Bravette Fleet, a film festival judge, said that he “related powerfully to some of the stories. They told the story of being homeless and struggling, which is my story, too.” When he turned in his jury scorecard, Fleet said: “It was incredibly moving to watch all of the different films and see the different interpretations of homelessness. It reminds you that this could happen to anyone. And it does happen to so many
different kinds of people.”