A series of short documentaries by two Bellingham filmmakers is giving viewers an intimate look at people they might otherwise simply pass by — a mentally ill man, a homeless veteran, volunteers giving sandwiches and support to those in need.
There are five such shorts, and they make up the first season of the for-the-web Homeless in Bellingham Film Project.
The films explore the complexities of homelessness and the impact on everyone in the community — be they a drain on services, uneasiness from trail users who notice people camping nearby, or the environmental impact on stream ecology from homeless people camping there. The hope is that the more people know about people who are homeless, and what brought them there, the more they’re willing to help.
“We’re hoping that enlightenment inspires action,” said Greg Winter, director of the Whatcom Homeless Service Center at the Opportunity Council.
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It seems to be working.
“We’ve gotten a lot of compliments and really a lot of people saying, ‘Thank you, I learned a lot. I didn’t realize that homelessness was such a complex issue. What can I do to help?’ ” said Winter, who also serves as an executive producer for the project.
The council is the organization behind the documentaries shot and edited by Fredrick Dent and Lisa Spicer of SpicerDent Productions, the filmmakers and anthropologists who have spent 1 1/2 years on the effort and are shooting segments for a second season.
This time around, the focus will include LGBTQ youth, homeless families and mental health. The Opportunity Council is trying to raise $20,000 to cover production costs for the second season and is asking for the public’s help through a crowdfunding campaign and a June 11 fundraiser at Pickford Film Center, which the filmmakers will attend.
“As a society we need to understand why people become homeless. Who is homeless? It’s not just one type of person. There’s so many different circumstances,” Spicer said.
Their work shows that.
In “The Ballad of Ferni Sanchez,” a Bellingham veteran ends up on the streets after losing her jobs in 2007 and 2008 and finding herself in an abusive relationship. “Rough Draft” is about a man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia who can no longer play or write music while in the depths of his illness and out on the streets. “Drive-by Lunch” focuses on volunteers at Hope House, who feed the homeless and on others who come into contact with the homeless, including police and business owners in downtown Bellingham.
The documentaries also show those who were homeless returning to themselves after getting housing and services, after their lives have become more stable. They show the depths of the need and the services that are available to help. They don’t always show people and situations in a flattering light, and they do show different viewpoints.
“We set out to make something that was as honest as possible,” Winter said of the project, which was an idea of the Whatcom County Coalition to End Homelessness.
For filmmaker Dent, the goal was to have the project be informative and to have an emotional connection. He wanted to show how things tied together in the descent into homelessness.
“What I see is there are two compounding factors. One of which is poverty. Gandhi referred to poverty as one of the cruelest forms of violence. Almost inevitably there is trauma. In all of these stories there is a ‘when it happened’ moment when the wheels fell off,” Dent said.
“This could happen to you. This could happen to me,” he said. “These are not disposable people.”