One of the five Oscar-nominated Documentary Shorts this year is Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk’s “Lead Me Home“. Available for streaming on Netflix, it is a powerful document of the problem of homelessness in America today. Like Jessica Kingdon’s “Ascension” its primary inspiration is Godfrey Reggio’s 1983 landmark film “Koyaanisqatsi”, a Hopi Native-American word for “life out of balance”.
“Lead Me Home” introduces us to three West Coast cities, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, each city being notorious for its massive homeless population. Los and Shenk then, channeling “Koyaaniskatsi”, give us a vision of each city from sunset to sunrise using panoramic drone shots and time-lapse photography. With their shimmering lights and constant freeway traffic, the cities seem like beacons of hope, industry and success.
Gradually, however, the directors bring their cameras down from the rooftops to street level and then we see them. The “tent cities” that just go on and on. In a nice piece of cross-cutting irony, many are dotted along the onramps, offramps and interchanges of those glittering freeways. Their juxtaposition with San Francisco’s City Hall and Opera House is even more striking.
Then we meet the people. Each of them has their own individual heartbreaking story. However, the stories often overlap. The spectres of mental illness, lack of access to health care, alcohol addiction, drug addiction, incarceration, violence, rape, unwanted pregnancies, and just plain bad luck make repeated appearances. As its centerpiece, the film has a social worker running down a shelter-intake questionnaire and, as we go back and forth between the people he is interviewing, our hearts break.
Haunting Scene Of A Mother
There is one haunting shot of a mother of two who is thirty-two weeks pregnant. She was raped. As she stands and stares silently out a window, lost in thought, we see the hive of building activity proceeding on the outside. Life goes on, but it goes on without her.