by Mellissa Thomas
Homeless people make you uncomfortable, right? You’re reluctant to look them in the eye for fear they’ll ask you for money, so you do one of two things: you either prepare a lie in your mind as to why you have none in case they ask you, or you pull out a single—or worse, just whatever spare coins you have—and begrudgingly hand it over, convinced they’ll use it for some bad habit.
Therein lies the problem. Homelessness has carried a slew of misperceptions, from the affected being lazy, to the belief that their plight is deserved because of some unseen decision. Plus, because of society’s habit of not making eye contact with the homeless, they therefore become faceless.
Homeless, Clay Hassler’s directorial debut feature, which had its world premiere at the 2015 Florida Film Festival Monday in the Regal Cinema Winter Park Village, forces you to look the problem right in its bright, promising, young, confused, acne-riddled face.
Directed by: Clay Riley Hassler
Written by Clay Riley Hassler and Anna Fields
Produced by Wet Paint
USA, 2015, 93 minutes
Homeless follows eighteen-year-old Gosh (pronounced Josh), a former rocker learning to cope with life in a homeless shelter after his grandmother’s death. Hassler’s narrative drama, which watches more like a documentary, is a fully immersive fish-out-of-water tale, and the Hassler’s cinematography ensures that you feel it with Gosh as he stumbles through his new untethered life on North Carolina’s winter streets.
What makes you squirm is its minimally talkative nature, with the silence stretching on for moments on end, forcing you to actually think about what you are seeing and falling in love with the poor soul whose wild, spiky hair and awkward demeanor make you wonder what is rolling around in his mind when he is silent. This role was lead actor Michael McDowell’s acting debut. Music from McDowell’s progressive rock band Exotopia is heard throughout the film.
While the movie focuses on the uncomfortable topic of homelessness, it widens the vignette to show you all the more relatable issues surrounding homelessness: mistrust; desperation; meager work and uncompassionate bosses; job search challenges (especially because of the lack of an address); loneliness; loss; and yes, the inevitable, inescapable issue of fatherlessness.
With and through Gosh, you’re made a pinball, bouncing speedily from one issue to the next, not knowing where the light at the tunnel’s end is…or if one even exists.
The kicker? All of this is inspired by true events. The filmmakers met the real Gosh, who wanted to write a memoir about his experience. Hassler and his wife Tif agreed to help him, but let him know they were filmmakers, and he collaborated with them to get his story on the screen.
The film leaves us with a mirror in which to stare and ask ourselves the one question we’ve been running from: Will I help or will I let this continue?
This poignant tale gets 4 stars.
Homeless is screening once more during the 2015 Florida Film Festival Wednesday, April 15, 2015 at the Enzian at 4 p.m. The Hasslers and McDowell will be in attendance for Q&A after the screening.