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Life Arts    H2'ed 9/3/14

Once-Homeless Filmmaker Tackles Youth Homelessness in "Lost in America"

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You've got lots to do. Besides for searching for that fine line between riveting storytelling and preachy overkill, you also need enough money to finance the filming. How's that going? Making movies is expensive. Homelessness is hardly a glamorous topic so I'm pretty sure that potential funders are not falling over one another in the rush to write you checks. Am I wrong?

Well, I wouldn't say it's expensive, most major commercials have bigger budgets than us. And it's not incredibly difficult, just a lot of begging. LOL. The way we've been raising funds is through private investors and crowd source funding. In fact, we're about to start a new Indiegogo campaign to fund our last two shoots. We need to raise an additional $35K to finish shooting, but are going for at least being able to do our next trip which is $18K. I have a truly phenomenal team of young filmmakers with me who are just as dedicated to the cause as I am so we're basically doing it as bare bones as possible while making it look phenomenal. You've seen the new trailer, it looks amazing. So we're not skimping on the gear, just stuff like eating and sleeping. You should see some of the hotels we've been in. And then, sometimes, you just stay out with the youth.

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Your answer raises all kinds of questions for me, Rotimi. The first thing is, does spending time on the streets with the kids trigger some uncomfortable flashbacks for you? Does one ever "get over" living on the streets?

Wow, your question actually hits home for me. I have to think of the best way to answer this. And I guess the first thing is no. But it's not that you don't get over living on the streets, it's that you never truly get over the pain or rejection that led you to the streets. It took me 20 years to be comfortable enough to discuss my time on the streets. And that's what lead to my making Sugar.

But even when making Sugar, I never really let myself deal with the emotions of what I went through. That didn't happen until I was doing a screening for a group of homeless youth in San Diego. One youth came up to me after the Q & A and asked me how I got over it. I tried to give him my canned answer of "I met a girl who let me stay with her and that's how I got past it" but he saw right through that. He asked, "No, how did you get over it?" I knew what he meant: how did I let go of the feelings of rejection, the feeling of abandonment? It was then that I realized I hadn't. And I thought if 20 years later I hadn't dealt with what I went through, how are these kids supposed to? So that's when I knew I had to do something about it.

I get it. Tell us about the creative ways you're going about fundraising. There's a challenge of some sort, I believe.

Yes, there's actually a few things we're doing. As I'm sure you can imagine, studios haven't lined up to tackle an issue like this. We do have a few investors but it just takes longer than you'd hope. And, well, we can't stop shooting because these kids are still living on the streets. So as I said, we're starting with an Indiegogo crowd source funding campaign.

Another thing we're doing is we've been looking for a way to help raise funds while directly helping some youth. We met Stephon, a 16 year old in San Francisco, who has been homeless and couch surfing with his very sick mother. He is such a sweet soul and a truly amazing young man. We met Stephon at an organization called Youth Spirit Art Works that gives homeless youth paid positions to do art for various city projects and helps them sell their art. So we're going to commission Stephon to design a t-shirt for Lost in America and then we're going to sell the t-shirt and donate half the proceeds to Youth Spirit Art Works. Hopefully this takes off because we can directly affect the lives of this young man and his mother along with all the other youth at Youth Spirit Art Works.

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The last thing we're doing is a campaign to raise attention to the film. I've been traveling the country with a sign that says "I am #lost in america". So we're going start our own challenge to make people understand that homeless youth are everywhere, even where you wouldn't believe it. We're challenging people to make their own "I am #lostinamerica" sign and take a video of themselves holding the video somewhere in their city saying "I am (name) and I am Lost in America at the (some place interesting in your own city) and I'm challenging (names) to stand in solidarity with me and the over 1.5 million homeless youth across the country by making your own sign and making your own video in your own city".

I'd love to see people doing this at the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, everywhere.

If this takes off anything like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, you'll be flying high. When are you scheduled to wrap up filming and begin putting Lost in America together in its finished form?

We hope to be done filming by November and should have the film finished by next spring.

What haven't we talked about yet that you'd like our readers to know?

On my journey I've realized one thing: that just about every one of these youth who are on the street are not there by choice. They are there because of three major reasons: because either home no longer exists, home is no longer safe, or home no longer wants them. This means that home is gone because of a family tragedy or economic downturn, or that home is no longer safe because of physical, sexual, or mental abuse. Or lastly, that home no longer wants them because of some sort of rejection, usually because the youth has come out as LGBT.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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