THE HOMESTRETCH (2014)
Directors: Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly
Running Time: 1:29
Release Date: 9/12/14 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 11, 2014
Each of us is a statistic. In fact, each of us fits into a collection of various statistics. Those statements are intended not to undermine anyone's individuality but to point out that, if one digs deep enough, there will be at least one thing that unites people of ostensibly different walks of life. The Homestretch begins with statistics of homeless youths in the city of Chicago. The film whittles down those numbers to focus on a trio of teenagers. Missing from this picture are the thousands of other homeless youths in the city. Also missing are the homeless adults in Chicago. Missing further still are the hundreds of thousands of homeless individuals in the United States. Of course, the film is not missing them because, like these three people, they fit into a certain statistic.
Directors Anne De Mare and Kirsten Kelly are keenly aware of the limitations of their non-fiction narrative. There are shots here and there of nameless and faceless homeless adults and children. As one of the teenagers is driven to the first real home that she has had in years, the camera looks out the car window to observe a man with a cardboard sign asking for help at an intersection. As another of the film's subjects walks down the street with a group of fellow students who have been fortunate enough to enter into a business education program, the camera spots a different man holding a similar cardboard sign sitting with his back against a building.
In a way, we're meant to consider that these random people are illustrations of what could become of the film's subjects, who benefit greatly from kind, hard-working people in Chicago's non-profit and local government sectors. That's not to mention their own determination to become more than, as people put it, "just a statistic."
It's more than that, though. Through the prism of the trio at the heart of the film, we're also contemplating these anonymous lives. Because of its narrow and intimate focus, the film casts a sympathetically wide net. The film's evocative final shot is of one of the teenagers we have seen in passing throughout the film. He stands alone outside a shelter in the dark, Chicago night—one of 2,000 to 3,000 of the city's youths, the film tells us, who sleep on the street each night. We can't help but wonder what brought them to this place, what their present situation is, and what will become of them.
Maybe one of them has a situation similar to Kasey's. Her mother kicked her out of the house after learning that Kasey is a lesbian, and while she tried to stay with her grandmother for a short time, the pressure against her sexuality became too much to bear. She has found refuge at a house run by Teen Living Programs, a local not-for-profit organization.
Maybe some those anonymous faces has had difficulties due to immigration issues in the way Roque (pronounced "Rocky") has. His father is an undocumented immigrant who was arrested during a raid, and his mother has since remarried. She and Roque's stepfather simply never extended an invitation for the boy to live with them. Roque ties his situation to Hamlet (Kasey, on the other hand, admires the duplicitous treachery of Iago in Othello). Instead, he lives with one of his teachers and her husband and children, who see him as part of the family.
Maybe a good number of the homeless teenagers and adults we see have been through the foster system at some point in their lives. Anthony, who lives in the same TLP house as Kasey, has, and he only mentions the abuse he received from some of those foster families before moving on to more immediate concerns. He has an infant son, and he is desperate to reinvent his life so that one day he can be a father and role model to his child.
Of course, we can only speculate as to the people we do not meet in the film, but De Mare and Kelly's approach to the film's central figures is so compassionate that it branches out to everyone else we see (When they lose track of one of the teens, a text exchange shows that the filmmakers' connection to their subjects is genuinely felt). This is particularly true of the various people helping these youths. There's Roque's teacher, who says her house would be filled with teenagers "in temporary living situations," as Chicago Public Schools calls them. There's the woman in charge of a local homeless shelter that can only take in 20 homeless kids and has to turn away another 20 each and every night (On an especially cold evening, they find a way to make room for everyone in line). There's the administrator in charge of the homeless students at a local high school, whose daily routine includes watching these students walk the streets after school with no idea where they're going.
As affecting as these teenagers' stories in The Homestretch are, the accounts of their advocates are equally inspiring. Here are people working with limited funding and resources continuing for as long as they can because they know it's necessary. The head of the shelter notes that people seem to be under the belief that the organization giving these kids a sandwich to stay will somehow result in an immediate turnaround in their lives. If the reactions from those in the shelter when they learn it must shut down is any indication, sometimes a sandwich—a simple, unanticipated act of kindness—is enough to change someone's life.
Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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