Homelessness seen through teens’ lens

By  Andrew Selvam, Youth Speak News
  • October 25, 2006
Arianne Villa & Audrey NaluzBRAMPTON, Ont. - A movie about the realities of the homeless is not a subject most Hollywood directors dream about filming, but it was an obvious choice for 15-year-olds Audrey Naluz and Arianne Villa.

The Grade 11 students at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton wanted to expose homeless stereotypes and show the dignity of homeless people. They found their creative outlet in a 20-minute docudrama called Poverello.

Now six months after the completion of their first film, the pair of moviemakers are in the idea-forming stages of the second instalment of Poverello.

The first movie stars William, a homeless man who speaks with great humility: “This is my home: It’s not much, but it keeps me warm at night.”  

The movie also features three main commentators: Fr. Joseph McDonald, founder of Poverello Missions; Emma Fedor, director of youth ministry at St. Anthony of Padua parish in Brampton; and Virginia Bodsworth, a teacher at Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in Mississauga.

The film, produced with a hand-held video camera and Villa’s home computer, is broken  into four chapters, each beginning with a motivational quote. Scenes of the cold and dark streets of Toronto were used as a backdrop for homeless statistics.

Poverello, translated from Italian, is the poor little one who lives simply and serves others. Many gave this same name to St. Francis of Assisi who gave up his noble background to live among the poor and serve their needs.

The movie suggests the solution to homelessness might be better sought through relationships and not handouts to the poor. It stresses our heart is more powerful than the mighty dollar. It encourages its audience to act with compassion and empathy toward the homeless. It stresses that the basic necessities of life are not food and water, but love and hope. It urges young people to become agents for social change and even more doing it in the name of God.

Naluz grew up working closely with the homeless. Her parents have been avidly involved in homeless missions for the last six years. Almost every weekend, Naluz and her family invite others to partake in a Friday or Saturday evening mission. Food is cooked and clothes are donated on a regular basis by members of their parish.

The real trigger for the movie came in February 2005 when Toronto created a bylaw banning people from sleeping in front of city hall in Nathan Philips Square. Earlier that same year, the municipal government announced a proposal to count the homeless in the city. Naluz was angered and considered that perhaps the government had an ulterior motive to move the homeless from public view. She felt the homeless census was both too formal and impersonal and an inadequate reason to spend $90,000 of taxpayers’ money.

The film debuted at their high school’s annual film festival. Since then the movie has been screened for various groups at the high school and local churches. 

The duo received a wide range of reactions from local high school students and members of their local youth group. The girls said since the young people interviewed for the movie came from a Catholic setting they expected a clear bias. Instead, they felt their peers weren’t being honest with their input. At their school most of the students said things like, “I would definitely give them change.” But the girls thought those responses probably just seemed like the right thing to say in a movie about the homeless. Yet amidst what they interpreted as negative comments was also an outpouring of love from young people.

Naluz and Villa’s connections with high school teachers in both Brampton and Mississauga have extended their student viewing audience. Wendy Bodsworth, religion and family life consultant for the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, said this film could be used for educational purposes. 

“Overall, the film was a wonderfully provocative awareness creating tool — great potential for use in civics, religion, media and human geography units,” said Bodsworth.

The girls are currently in talks about featuring their film on the Salt + Light Television.

(Selvam, 24, teaches at St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brampton, Ont.)

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