End Youth Homelessness...

As we are finishing the film, it is still so important that we remember that this issue is not being fixed, it's not coming to an end.  If anything, it's just getting worse.  That is why everyone one of us on the team are completely dedicated and determined to bring this message to the world.  We truly believe that the reason youth homelessness is allowed to happen, why it is such a massive issue, is because most American's don't know it's happening.  So hopefully, through this film, they will understand just how many of our children are on the streets, and finally do something about it.  Because it is all of our hopes that no more children will ever be...  Lost in America.

First Day of Color Correction!!!

So today we started the important process of color correction where you give the film it's "look". It's really exciting for me as a director because it's where I get to take the images we captured and make them look the way I always envisioned it in my head.  It's also exciting because it means we're coming to the end of the journey.  You don't do this until the film is locked.  So we're almost there!!!!   #lostinamerica

Test Screening!!!

So here it is.  We're at the WME screening room getting ready for the first test screening of Lost In America for notes.  This is the process films go through to test what they've done so far and see what works and what doesn't work.  For documentaries this is especially important because the post process is all about finding your story while you go since you don't have a script.  It's going to be a big night!!!  #lostinamerica

Tech Test was amazing!!!

What a great day today! We did our first technical test to prep for our first test screening at William Morris Endeavor. It looks and sounds amazing. While we still have a lot of work to do, the end is in sight. After 2 1/2 years, the journey to finish the film is almost over. Soon the journey to get the film out there and change lives begins...  #lostinamerica #endyouthhomelessness

Day 95 of Post Production

Wow, so we've hit day 95 of post production.  We're knee deep into the 2nd pass and it's coming out really good.  It's just dawned on me how long this journey is going to be.  The difference between editing a narrative film and a documentary is HUGE.  With a narrative film you have a script to follow, not  so for a documentary.  So you just have to try your different stories and discover the film as you go.  Well, that's extremely over simplified, but that's how it goes.  Well, thanks for following, stay tuned...

Heading Home

That’s a picture wrap on the final trip for Lost in America.  What an amazing experience it has been.  26 days on the road, 11 cities, and enough memories to last a lifetime.

We met so many courageous youth searching for their place in the world and fighting to overcome their past to have an ordinary life.

We feel so deeply honored they all chose to share their stories with us and hope to make it so no other youth ever have to find themselves… Lost in America.

Saying yes to God

Today we met Denard, a deeply religious young man, in Apopka, Fl.  As with many in the deep south, his life has always been centered around the church.  He loved singing in the choir, and was the center of so many of the church’s plays; even playing Jesus in some of the stories.  No one could ever doubt Denard’s love for his lord, or the church.  As he says so often… Yes God!!!

But his world came crashing down around him when he could no longer hide who he was and he decided to come out to those around him.  Not only was he rejected by members of his family, but also the church itself.  As he tells it, he threw himself on the alter in front of the church and begged them, and God, to help him no longer be gay.  Shortly after, he found himself sleeping behind a dumpster trying to survived, homeless on the streets of Orlando.

When he asked his Bishop for help, she told him it was God’s way of punishing him because he was gay; he was homeless because he way gay.

It’s a shame how any community could turn their back on one of their children because of his romantic preference, but thankfully Denard is fighting through it and standing strong.  We can’t wait to share with you his story.  Yes God!!!

The making of a Saint

I’ve heard the term Saint before, but I’ve never used it.  I’ve heard of saints, but never seen one in real life.  Have you?  I mean sure, I’ve heard of Mother Theresa, or Ghandi, I even watched the Val Kilmer film which is where I learned that a saint has to perform 3 miracles.  (Hey, what can I say, the story of a mis-spent childhood…)  But seriously, I’ve never met a saint before, until now.

Two days ago we met Gloria Lewis, a small firecracker of a woman in her 50’s from Barbados, now working as a waitress in Fort Lauderdale, who is doing more for the homeless than most major organizations.  This woman, out of her small home, cooks over 170’bs of chicken a week, almost just as much Talapia, and spaghetti and meatballs to serve over 330 meals a week to those living on the streets in her Fort Lauderdale neighborhood near the airport.

This isn’t  woman who is wealthy, nor is she funded by some big organization.  No, this is a woman who funds all of this through the tips she makes at a local Deli, and sometimes, when things get tight, uses her own rent money to make sure these men and women at least get there one meal that day.  But more than that, when we filmed her for Lost in America, we saw her son take off his own belt to help someone who needed a belt.  We saw as they made sure to go by shoes for a man who was about to start a new job and needed shoes.  But none of this could have prepared me for what happened next, and is why I would put Mrs. Gloria Lewis up for sainthood.

As we drove down NW 31st Ave she was telling us the story of Gramps, an older man who lived near a bus station.  Last week his feet were swollen, so they had gone out and bought him a pair of sandals and she wanted to check in on him.  Once she found him we waited for a moment as she went over to him.  Suddenly she reappeared to grab a hand sanitizer saying, “Sorry boys, this is going to get dirty.  You can stay here if you’d like.”  We jumped out to see what was going on and there is Mrs. Lewis knelt over next to Gramps, looking over his feet.  They were extremely swollen, and very worn.  They had the type of crust, or dirt you would expect on someone who’s been living on the streets for a very long time, and sometimes without shoes.  But Gloria didn’t mind.  She got right to cleaning his feet for him.  Yes, you heard that right, she knelt right in front of him and without hesitation started to wash this man’s feet.  Finally after talking to him, and looking over his feet, she told him, “Now you stay right here hun and eat your meal.  I’m going to go home, grab a bucket and put some hot water and epsom salts in it.  I’ll bring some ointment and medicine, and we’ll take good care of you.

With that, she gave him a hug, got up and left with us.  For her, it was no big deal.  This was her everyday life.  This is what all human beings were supposed to do.  But then I told her that there was only one other person I’d ever heard of doing that before, and he was in the Bible.  She just laughed, and carried on.  We finished giving away the meals that day, but unfortunately, there were still people out there who she wasn’t able to feed.  She said she’s going to try to work another shift so she can maybe cook 350 meals next week. But she knows that still won’t be enough.

If we could all just learn to follow her lead imagine what the world would be like.  I want to reach out to everyone of you, and say we have to support his woman.  She just got her 501c3, so lets help her.  She truly is a saint.  The name of her organization is Care in Action USA.  I don’t think her website is up yet but her twitter is @Gigilewis.  Reach out to her, she could use some help.

Oh, when I asked her why not just make one meal, it could save time and money, she said, because I don’t want no one telling me what I can eat, so I give them choices.  I tell them you choose, chicken, spaghetti, or fish.  I just wish they all didn’t want the fish, that’s the most expensive.  But who doesn’t like fish?  I think it was a favorite of Jesus’ too…

Morning Hope

So, it’s six o’clock in the morning, and I’m sitting here at my dining room table which has become my de facto office/edit bay.  And as I’m preparing for this last, very long trip, I’ve started thinking about life.

The woman I love is still sleeping with my baby getting ready to come, and I’m about to head out on the road for 26 days to film the last bits of Lost in America. And I think, now that it’s 6:30, this is the time I used to wake up at Lake Eola. The morning traffic would be rushing by, and I’d look up and see my grandmother’s light turn on.  She’d probably be making her tea, getting her breakfast, then reading the paper.  And I’d be just a few hundred yards away, using the same paper to dry off some of the dew that had settled on me the night before.  Or most likely I’d be jumping up because I had to find a place to use the bathroom.  The one thing I hated in the morning was those damn joggers.  They all looked so happy and healthy, and I always woke up hungry.

But here I am now, sitting in my own place.  And I’m drinking my tea, having my own breakfast.  And I now have my own family who love me deeply. But now my thoughts are wondering to all the youth I’ve met and wondering where they are. Are they just waking up?  It’s colder in some of the places they are than it was in Orlando.  I couldn’t imagine waking up in San Fran, or Denver, outside right about now.  I wonder are they ok?

We’ve lost track of some of them.  We haven’t head from Calub, in Denver, for at least 6 months.  No one knows where she is.  We haven’t heard from Conner or Makayla since January, but I know we’re running up to San Francisco tomorrow to try and find them.  It’s truly powerful what self-doubt, addiction, and shame can do to you.  My mother was an addict, so I saw the ways she tried to escape the shame of knowing that she’d lost control of her life, so I can understand what they’re going through after the pain they’ve endured  and why they’re running. But, they have family who love them dearly, who are desperately trying to find them.  But neither one of them can face that now, which is such as shame.  Then I wonder, who am I to say anything?  Why would they want to hear anything different from me?  If we do find them, what can we say to get them to see they aren’t stuck, that there is a way out?

All I know is when I was on the street, all I wanted was to be off the streets.  And all I can think is that everyone of these youth feel the same way.  All they want is a way to find hope again.  To believe that there is something better for them. That the dreams that were beaten out of them by a parent who “hates gays”, or the hope that was taken away from them when their mother died on “Lifetime Support”, or the future they dreamed was stolen from them when their infant child passed in their arms, still exists.  And that’s it right there, that’s the key to it, the truth to it.  No child is on the streets because they chose to be.  We all ended up on the streets because of something  painful.  For me, it was watching my mother waste away.  Watching the cancer attack her spine and make her quadriplegic, taking the life from her.    And if you take the time to talk to a youth on the street, and ask them, they’ll all have an equally painful experience in their life that forced them on the streets.  And yes, sometimes you can say it was a choice. Cecil said it best, sure I had a choice, I could have stayed living with the father who had raped me since I was 5, sure I didn’t have to leave.  But what kind of choice is that? …I haven’t heard from Cecil in a long time too.

But we’re about to head out, and I know I’ll see these youth again.  I am optimistic.  I mean Eddie’s off the streets, Sean has his own place now, so does Jenna, and Lexie’s about to graduate college.  There is so much hope out there for these youth.  We just have to share it with them.  We need to remember these are just kids, and with a little help, a little love, they can find the hope they lost, and get to live the life they deserve, and get to be happy again…

I did.

 

Rotimi

Being a Hero in Seattle

So we’re here in Seattle and it truly has been an eye opening experience.  We’d heard this was a mecca for homeless youth, an oasis if you will.  But as we sat down with Kristine Cunningham from The Roots Shelter we found out that there truly is no oasis for homeless youth.  There really is no city who has, YET, figured out how to do it right.  But perhaps it’s more that there just isn’t enough funding out there to give them the ability to fix things.  Bu that’s not stopping people here in Seattle.

Meet Tricia Lupitan and her organizations, Heroes for the Homeless.  Now she’ll be the first one to tell you that they are not a fix for the issue, they’re just trying to do something to take care of those already on the streets.  So we met with her and her group of volunteers (yes they all volunteer) as they got ready to do one of they out reach nights.

It started in their kitchen where they made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other foods to take with them.  Now they don’t just go to the streets where it’s safe, not they go under the streets, LITERALLY.

We followed them as they went to a place called, “THE JUNGLE”.  This is what the cops call the few mile stretch under the  5 and 90 freeways where they cops usually stay away from.  Bu tit was there that they were able to bring a little humanity to those who needed it most.

They are an amazing example of a great solution to the question we’re always asked… “What can I do?  I’m just one person.”  Tricia and her team are just normal people, working 1 sometimes 2 jobs, going to school, raising families, who donate their time to bring food, clean socks, and basic necessitites to those who need it.

They truly are… Heroes for the Homeless.  We could all learn from them.

San Francisco

So we made it to San Francisco today.  It’s great to be starting the new leg of our west coast trip.  But our excitement to get back out on the road and tell these stories was tempered today as we were faced again with the realities that these youth face every day.

We’ve spent time in the Tenderloin district, in Golden Gate Park, even Haight Street area and everywhere we go we see more youth looking for a place to fit in.  Today we met Conner & Makayla, two youth who’ve been on the street for almost a year.  We spent the night out with them last night in the Embarcadero area.

It was really difficult to see first hand how as a nation we treat homeless youth.  Lisa Marie, at the San Francisco Coalition for the homeless put it best.  “It’s like a form of torture, it’s like sleep deprivation.  Every where they go they’re forced to move ever few hours.  They try to sleep in a park and either the cops come and make them move, or at midnight the sprinklers go off.  Then they move somewhere else and they have to move again.  They rarely get to sleep more than a few hours at a time.  It’s sleep deprivation”.

And last night was no different.  As we sat in the middle of a park near the Embarcadero the sprinklers came on at midnight forcing us to move.

It’s so difficult of these youth.  It was just one night out for us and it was exhausting so imagine what it must be like for them going through this night in and night out.

Such a shame.  We’ll, we’ll be in Seattle soon….  See you there.

The Merry Go Round goes Round and Round . . .

So we’re shooting b-roll today as we just got to Seattle and found this cool old merry go round.  So we spent the past hour shooting The Merry Go Round go round and round…  Trust me, it’s a lot cooler than it sounds.  We did some great slow motion stuff with it.  It’s a metaphor for the lack of joy, the lack of fun these youth have.  How their childhood has been stripped away from them.

#wherethedaytakesyou

The Melancholy of Absence

As I take this journey, to tell the story of homeless youth in America, I am forced to face my own realities which have stemmed from my time on the streets.  When I decided to make this documentary, Lost in America, I never fully prepared myself for the truths I would have to start to face. The journey has been across the country, but it has also been a pilgrimage into the uncharted depths of my own heart.  Now that I’m deep in it I’ve come to realize there are many truths that all former and present homeless or foster youth face.  There are none no more powerful than what I call, The Melancholy of Absence.

There is a melancholy that comes with absence.  For years I have felt this and not known how to describe it.  I’ve just chalked it up to a bad day, avoided people, and tried to feel better the next.  I am generally a joyful person, someone always looking for the next smile.  But taking this journey has forced me on many levels to deal with things I have avoided for years.  And this journey has given me a foundation of understanding to my melancholy.  I have to say foundation because the journey is new and the house still yearns to be built.  But the understanding has taken root and is burrowing deep in me for full recognition.

When you’ve been abandoned, or rejected by those who are supposed to love you most, like so many homeless and foster youth have, that pain never truly goes away.  No matter how hard you try, the memory of that is never too far.  And while you learn to move on   from it, or at least push on, that loss you feel, that hole that now resides where love is supposed to, most often gets filled with a sense of melancholy; The melancholy of absence.

Every homeless or foster youth that I have spoken with feels this.  When you walk down the street and watch a mother affectionately embrace her child you do enjoy that moment.  You recognize the beauty in it, and even may relate to it for that moment.  But in the back of your mind you know that you don’t have that.  That it was either stolen or ripped away from you.  And it might be for just a fleeting moment, but you will yearn for it.  When you watch as a young boy, running around, falls and as the tears pour his father runs to him, picks him up and holds him.  You do feel that boy’s pain.  But you then see as he holds his father and, once again, you do yearn for that.

These are not moments that stay with you for long, nor could they.  The one thing we have built deep inside of us is the need to survive and in order to do that, you can’t dwell in that house for too long.  It is too painful and so we let it go as quickly as we can.  But after a while, months, years, even decades, that melancholy will fill up and eventually overflow.  And one random occurrence will happen, one random… for me today it was while watching a movie.  It wasn’t even a very sentimental or dark film.  Perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was the way he held her in his arms, but it was all I needed and the tears were there.

There was no reason for it. I knew that.  In fact as I sobbed I told myself how silly I was being.  But then I did realize what was happening.  It was the melancholy of absence, and I decided to write this.

We need to change things in America.  We are a country that likes to clean things up so they don’t have to deal with it anymore.  Sweep it under the rug, put them in shelters, put them anywhere that makes us feel good about it for the one grand purpose of being able to forget about them.  But we can’t forget about these children.  As a society when we step in and take these children away from their homes as foster care does, or shelter the homeless youth we must understand that we have now shouldered the burden of parenthood.  And as any parent knows, the pain doesn’t stop when the tears do.  The tears may be gone.  The pain may subside.  But they are always left with one thing, the painful reminder that they are alone, that they have been abandoned.  That they will always have to deal with… The Melancholy of Absence.