The Homeless Film Festival

Festival creator Jamie Rhodes on giving the homeless not only a voice but also a creative outlet

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This week sees the launch of a unique new film event and social scheme, The Homeless Film Festival. Touring round the UK and Ireland from April 1st, the festival is screening short and feature films both by and about homeless people. Highlights include dark comedy Adam & Paul, Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home and a brilliant shorts programme featuring stories on homelessness from Mexico, Korea, Holland, the UK and America. Dazed Digital spoke to festival creator Jamie Rhodes.

The film industry is one of the strongest growth industries and homelessness is a growing social issue, so it sort of makes sense that we could work to combat homelessness using the film industry. The focus wasn’t making films about homelessness, it was them having an outlet for creativity in a way they perhaps hadn’t had before

Dazed Digital: Where did the idea for the festival come from?
Jamie Rhodes: A lot of what’s available in the homelessness shelters, it’s not just about having a roof over their head, it’s engaging with society on a more personal level. Initially we just thought we’d make a short film with some homeless people, and we were successful in doing that. Then we thought, because we had two bases, in Manchester and Nottingham, we’d do a film in each base, show it and call it the Homeless Film Festival.

DD: To what extent were the homeless people involved in making the films?
Jamie Rhodes: We would train them on equipment at workshops. It was a prolonged engagement over six months. We developed story ideas with them, they used the cameras, we did some acting with them, then they shot the film over two days, and they really enjoyed it.

DD: Do you have an overall aim for the festival?
Jamie Rhodes: We want to host it biannually. The film industry is one of the strongest growth industries and homelessness is a growing social issue, so it sort of makes sense that we could work to combat homelessness using the film industry. And, because film is all about story and bringing things to life, homeless people don’t have that voice in society or that platform. The focus wasn’t making films about homelessness, it was them having an outlet for creativity in a way they perhaps hadn’t had before.

DD: What most surprised you when you were working with the homeless people?
Jamie Rhodes: They have such chaotic lives there are so many odd stories, but once you engage with them and they grow to trust you, they really open up. Being homeless can reduce their self-esteem to nothing; they feel they aren’t good at anything and have nothing to contribute. Despite the long shoot days, they still wanted to stick around to continue filming. Even though you could see some of the participants battling to overcome addiction were struggling, they were engaging with this meaningful thing that they had grown passionate about over the workshops. Participants would often get an early night before shoot days so they could perform to the best of their ability in the workshops; it gave them a reason to believe in themselves.

The Homeless Film Festival 2012 begins in 1 April and tours Newcastle, Manchester, Derby, Nottingham, Belfast, London and Dublin.

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