“I Am Another You”: Filmmaker from China tails the story of a talented homeless man with mental illness

As a movie title, “I Am Another You” reminds me of “Call Me by Your Name”. (Dec. 21), and there is some similar charisma in this road documentary by Chinese filmmaker Nanfu Wang.

As the film opens, she is agreeing to film the life in south Florida of a rather articulate young while man Dylan Olsen, who has chosen to live in the streets as homeless.  I was in the area in mid November and there is one shot that may be on Fort Lauderdale Beach, where I stayed;  some of it looks more like down around Hollywood. Dylan has become the classic 60s hippie, with some tattoos, one in the geographical center of his chest, which my own personal bias would judge as disfiguring.  We learn he has semi-voluntarily left a comfortable middle-class upbringing in Utah and can wonder why.

Then Wang goes back to New York, where she has to finish some work on “Hooligan Sparrow” (2016, my legacy review), a film which exposed sexual harassment of female teachers by a high school principal in China, which the state wanted to suppress.  She then travels to Utah, to meet Dylan’s family, in the second part of the film, called “The freedom to choose”.

The father, active in the LDS Church works in law enforcement and has even dealt with child pornography. His two younger children are much more “successful” by establishment norms. The younger brother, Austin, seems to budding as a potential concert pianist, as he plays part of the first movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata (#8, in C Minor) on the family grand piano with impeccable technique. The father, in a flashback, recounts how he gave his son $400 cash once he was in a line at a Greyhound bus station, having asked the son to leave after catching him with drugs in the home, repeatedly.

You wonder here, with the same upbringing; what is the difference.  Maybe genetics means a lot more than we want to admit.

In the last part of the film (titled as the film), Dylan has returned to witness a wedding (the film detours into the father’s own marital instability). Then he goes off on his own again, with some beautiful scenes in the Great Salt Lake desert that reminded me of “Zabriske Point” (and also of “Gerry”).  Then the film goes back to Florida, and Dylan starts to share his “visions” of what is his reality.  We suspect he is recounting his own journey into schizophrenia as he entered young adulthood, which should have been treatable. Dylan is not violent or hostile (as most mentally ill people are not, confounding the impression left by the Aurora shootings case).  Again, we witness how good his street smarts and street survival skills are.  He lives in a world where there is no shame in begging for help.  But he says his “visions” would keep him from holding down a real job with regular hours.

In recent years, I have sometimes volunteered on a few Saturday afternoons at a local church “Community Assistance” program, and many of the clients are said to be “mentally ill”.  There seems to be a big correlation between schizophrenia and homelessness.

But now the title of the film comes into play. To Dylan, the visions are reality.  Turning this upside down, if you had lived during the time of Christ, the miracles (even the resurrection and Ascension) would be reality if you had seen them yourself.  (And then there is the lesson on doubting Thomas.)

We’re led back to wonder about young heroes when we do encounter them. For young men, physiologically, the early twenties can be a challenge, as the brain finishes its final phase of biological maturation (and pruning process, which may once in a while prune connections it needs).

PBS aired this film Monday January 29. 2018 at a very late hour, 11 PM.  It followed with a 10-minute short film, “Jason”, drawn from “Dogtown Redemption”, about a young homeless man with HIV and severe lymphedema.

Great Salt Lake and desert, wiki.

Name: “I Am Another You”
Director, writer:  Nanfu Wang
Released: 2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2017/1/29 PBS
Length:  80
Rating:  NA
Companies:  PBS Independent Lens, Film Rise
Link:  PBS

(Posted: Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 10:30 AM)

“The Messengers”: Volunteers serve homeless men with HIV at a house in Washington DC

The Messengers“, directed by Lucian Perkins, shows us the life of two committed volunteers at Joseph’s House, a hospice for homeless men with HIV and AIDS, in Washington DC, in Adams-Morgan.  The film showed at Filmfest DC on Sunday afternoon at Landmark E Street.

One young woman comes up for a year of service from North Carolina before finishing college, but now she has finished her Masters in social work at Columbia.

The film also traces the experiences of some of the patients, such as one who was told he had only two months to live but survived ten.  At one point Elijah actually looks forward to the possibility of his own place again, as sometimes people get better and can live on their own.  The experience here is more variable than at large “commercial” hospices where people die of old age and usually enter only when they have a few days to live. But this house is very much a home for the patients as is.

Emotionally the experience is very intense, with volunteers sitting with patients for very long periods. During the QA, it was said that the House only accepts volunteers who can make extensive minimum time commitments.  This is not an experience that benefits from large numbers for short times.

The film showed a cat and dog, and one wonders how well they understand what is happening.

In understanding the title of the film, it is well to remember that angels are messengers.

QA

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3 Comment that only long-term volunteers are needed

Name: “The Messengers”
Director, writer:  Lucian Perkins
Released:  2017
Format:  digital video
When and how viewed:  Filmfest DC, Landmark E Street, 2017/4/23, large auditorium nearly sold out
Length:  52
Rating:  NA
Companies:  NA  (hope to see on PBS Independent Lens?)
Link:  Facebook, Filmfest DC

(Posted: Sunday, April 23, 2017 at 11:45 PM EDT)

“Moonlight”: a tough coming-of-age drama, spanning decades, of a black gay man in Miami

everglades

Name: “Moonlight”
Director, writer:  Barry Jenkins (written, directed)
Released:  2016/10 (after Telluride)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2016/10/30, late PM, small audience
Length 111
Rating R
Companies: A24
Link: official

Moonlight” is a tough coming-of-age story of a young black man in the ramshackle tenements of suburban Miami.

It’s in three parts (“Little”, “Chiron”, “Black”) with a different actor playing the boy (Alex Hilbert), teen (Ashton Sanders) and grown man (Trevante Rhodes).

In the opening, a crack dealer (Mahershala Ali) rescues the boy and becomes a father figure, as the film then explores the boy’s relationship with the drug-addicted mother.

As a teen, Chiron is bullied, and in one scene he asks his de facto parents what a “faggot” is.  Eventually, he becomes intimate “On the Beach” and “In the Moonlight” with Kevin (Jharrel Jerome).  The film has a couple classroom scenes, one where the biology teacher is trying to educate the kids about AIDS, and another where the teacher has to control a fight started by Chiron getting back at the bullies.

In the final part, Chiron is a hardened adult in the “Scarface” world of south Florida.  He wears an artificial denture resembling “Jaws” in the Bond movies.  But he reunites, at least in deep friendship, with Kevin.

The film confronts the gentrified viewer with the harsh reality of growing up in the drug-infested housing projects, where drug dealing is almost the entire economy.  Chiron tries to become as good a person as possible given the circumstances of his rearing.

The plot structure, of resuming a relationship that had started earlier, resembles that of “Lazy Eye” (Oct. 27) and even occurs in Dan Blatt’s novel “Calypso’s Cave” which I read a draft of in 1997 (discussion) — would make a nice indie film if it got made.

African American migratory workers by a "juke joint". Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
African American migratory workers by a “juke joint”. Belle Glade, Florida, February 1941. Reproduction from color slide. Photo by Marion Post Wolcott. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In August 1986, when on vacation in a rent car, I visited Belle Glade, FL a migrant labor town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee, which had become a small epicenter for AIDS.  A car followed me out of town back to West Palm Beach.  It was bizarre.

I have to say that the “Moonlight” metaphor title hooks up with Reid Ewing’s song “In the Moonlight (Do Me)” from Modern Family. No, it’s not used but it could have been.  There is a lot of interesting African string music, but also a Mozart excerpt.

Picture: FL Everglades, my trip, 2004. Wikipedia attribution link for Belle Glade picture, LOC, p.d.

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016 at 10 PM EDT)