“You can’t walk a block in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle — choose a west coast city — and not be faced with the homelessness crisis,” declares Jon Shenk the subject of his new documentary “Lead Me Home.” The film, which is currently streaming on Netflix, is a harrowing look at the lives of the homeless population on the western coast of the United States, and has been shortlisted for Best Documentary Short at the upcoming 2022 Oscars. Check out our exclusive video interview with Shenk and co-director Pedro Kos above.
Kos argues that one of film’s aims is to break down what he calls “the invisible walls” that exist around the homeless population. “We wanted to lay the playing field and connect with everyone on a very basic human level,” he says.
The film includes what are known as “vulnerability assessments,” interviews that determine the services that are available to homeless people needing help. Shenk says that the impact of those interviews was startling. “Pedro and I have conducted hundreds, if not thousands of documentary interviews in our career,” he says. “We sat down and witnessed [a vulnerability assessment] and we realized that they made us look like amateurs when it comes to interviewing people.”
Both Shenk and Kos found it difficult to maintain an emotional distance from both the subject matter. “When you are invested with these people’s stories and lives, you connect them to your own experiences, your own life’s journey,” argues Kos. However, Shenk believes that such an emotional connection is necessary in order to examine such a complicated issue as homelessness. “It’s tough to see the dark side of the system that we have in this country,” he says. “We know it’s not simple. There are factors that range all the way from systemic racism to economic policy to housing policy.”
Both directors ultimately hope that the film sparks a conversation that will allow for some level of change in how the homeless are seen. “We’re not under any illusions that any single film is going to change the world,” remarks Shenk. “But hopefully it’s a reminder for a little bit of course correction for people who watch the film about the state we are in in the United States with some of these policies.”
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