Tribute: Lily, a film by David Helman

David Helman captures Lily's hard knocks of life in America's ex-Furniture Capital

What to do when all your friends have left your fading hometown? So is Lily's predicament in David's Helman's poignant short film, documenting small town survival through the eyes of its frustrated youth.

Elegiac, yet not entirely without hope, Lily take us on a tour of the abandoned factories of Jamestown - America's former capital of furniture - which have become converted into abandoned playgrounds for loners and homeless alike. Living out of her car with only one working arm, Lily wonders about the surreally uncertain aspect of the future, while avoiding the camera's direct gaze: "I feel like my life is a movie right now."

Helman's sympathetic portrayal affords us a final half-glimpse of a beautiful face and courageous spirit, despite the obvious obstacles placed in her path. 

Mainline Films, in partnership with Dazed, presents Tribute – a series of film portraits featuring contemporary youth. Here, director David Helman speaks to Mainline's AG Rojas about making the film.

Mainline: What is your relationship to the town where Lily lives?

David Helman: Jamestown is where my mom's side of the family is from, but most of my aunts and uncles have moved south to get away from the weather. My grandfather still lives there and I try to go out once a year to visit him. 

M: It feels like one of those towns that was dependent on an industry, and once that industry faded, so did the town. Is that accurate or is there something else going on?

DH: That's pretty much it. The town was once the furniture capital of the United States, but over the last thirty years the industry has moved all their factories to China and Mexico. You get the sense that most young people know that they need to move somewhere else to find work, leaving behind all the elderly who still hold on to the homes they've had for decades. 

M: How open was Lily to being filmed? Did it take some coaxing?

DH: We found Lily through her boyfriend first. Originally, the focus was going to be on the two boys (Alex & Alex) but one Alex asked if it would be okay if he brought his girlfriend along when I first met them. When I started talking to her, I realized that she had a great story, but was most comfortable opening up about it with her friends around.

M: At which part of shooting did you decide to keep her face hidden? i think it's a choice that forces you to really listen and pay attention, as you're rewarded at the end with a glimpse.

DH: That was decided as soon as I realized that she had tried to hide her face or look away from the camera in almost every shot. There was no direction from me telling her to do that. It was a challenge for me, as I was putting the edit together, to try and keep the focus on her words particularly when she was very open and frank about her life. 

M: Had Lily and her friends been to the places you filmed before, or were you guys just cruising around? Is it an example of a typical day in their lives?

DH: All of those locations are in old factories areas that they've explored and were anxious to show me.The last location was a spot we actually discovered on the day of filming where we ran into a few homeless people who weren't thrilled with our presence. 

M: Cool. Anything else you'd like to share?

DH: I shot it in IMAX 3D.