“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)