After Rachel Fleischer graduated from college she took out a loan for a video camera, and took to roaming the streets to create a project she was sincere about filming. She would dedicate the next four years of her life to documenting the lives of homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles. Through her very personal and compassionate documentary, Without a Home, she gives some of the people she met a chance to tell their stories honestly. Fleischer explains how she spent most of her life feeling curious about and connected to the homeless. Quite simply, she wanted to know them personally. This documentary became an extension of a lifelong interest for Fleischer both to know the homeless and begin to help them any way she could. The most unusual part of her documentary is how she actually became involved in all of her subjects’ lives. Usually the video camera can act as a barrier from the other world being filmed, but Fleischer invites herself into their lives as she lets her new friends into her own life.
Throughout the documentary, many difficult truths about the homeless people she met are exposed such as mental illnesses and drug addiction. Fleischer does not pretend to be a superhero, or to have the solutions to save the homeless. Instead she gives them a platform to tell their stories, and is able to make a difference in all of their lives. Through the smallest act of listening to them, to a larger act of getting a few of them into a rehabilitation center, she shows the power of a little kindness. I felt really empathetic towards all of the people and families documented by the end of the film as their stories unfolded. I found myself really proud of them when they make positive life changes, and devastated when they fell. It’s a very moving documentary that’s full of hope. It really moves past the stereotypes surrounding the homeless, and gives each of the people documented the chance to share a full portrait of their lives. Rachel Fleischer has also launched a campaign to raise awareness about these issues called What Can I Do.
The film is available to order and will be released today on DVD.
Without a Home
Directed by Rachel Fleischer
Produced by Joanna Adler & Fleischer
Released by Breaking Glass
USA. 74 min. Not rated
Rachel Fleischer’s documentary Without a Home is vital. It takes advocacy for a cause and embeds it in a truly moving story. Her film makes the invisible visible and gives a voice to a population, the homeless, that has been voiceless and drained of meaning and made to be, like the dispossessed throughout history, not human. Or perhaps, for the more liberal, a lesson: “Don’t end up like this man.” In any event, Fleisher helps, through a thoroughly emotional narrative, to make her subjects, and by proxy the homeless in general, real.
Without a Home is a small film, perhaps inexpertly made in terms of visuals, but that is rather the point. It is intimate, and through that intimacy, it creates vulnerability and opens up a space for homelessness to be seen for what it is. Fleischer has an eye for narrative and is effective at putting pieces together to make a satisfying film that isn’t relentless in stating its intentions. It neither infinitely repeats some progressive truism nor cloyingly plays upon your sympathies. Much of its power derives from its genuineness. It also serves as a Rorschach test for whether a person has a soul or not. If you are okay with people being homeless after you watch this, then there’s something sociopathic in your psyche.
While Fleischer’s inclusion of herself in the documentary may at first come off like some unthinking postmodern flourish or narcissistic, it soon becomes apparent that when dealing with a subject like the homeless in such a personal way, one cannot help but become enmeshed in their lives. Through a mixture of guilt, compassion, empathy, and friendship, Fleischer becomes the audience surrogate. As she becomes wrapped up in her subjects, through her, we too cannot help but become entangled as well.
With the financial crisis still in full swing, there’s something zeitgeisty here. While the project began well before things started to go truly downhill, homelessness is poised to become an even more crippling problem. It’s going to get worse, thanks to the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems debacle, robo-signing, and lenders, like Bank of America, rushing through hundreds of thousands of foreclosures, possibly illegally. Keeping this in mind, Fleischer’s film is instrumental in reminding everyone that, as her rabbi once reminded her, “Paralysis is a luxury.” For Aristotle, the end result of a logical argument was always action—as it should be for the end of this moving, articulate film.