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Streetwise (1984)Streetwise (1984)

Streetwise (1984)

A clear-eyed and tender documentary of youth living in the streets of eighties Seattle

Documentary

8.6

movie

United States of America

English

Mind-blowing, Sunday, Thought-provoking

1984

Martin Bell

Dewayne Pomeroy, Lulu Couch, Roberta Joseph Hayes

91 min

Synopsis

Taking their camera to the streets of what was supposedly America’s most livable city, filmmaker Martin Bell, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, and journalist Cheryl McCall set out to tell the stories of those society had left behind: homeless and runaway teenagers living on the city’s margins. Born from a Life magazine exposé by Mark and McCall, Streetwise follows an unforgettable group of at-risk children—including iron-willed fourteen-year-old Tiny, who would become the project’s most haunting and enduring figure, along with the pugnacious yet resourceful Rat and the affable drifter Dewayne—who, driven from their broken homes, survive by hustling, panhandling, and dumpster diving. Granted remarkable access to their world, the filmmakers craft a devastatingly frank, empathetic portrait of lost youth growing up far too soon in a world that has failed them.

Our Take

8.6
Igor Fishman

Martin Bell documents the lives of youth living in the streets of Seattle in the early eighties with profound empathy. It’s a type of filmmaking that doesn’t judge or condescend, but seeks to capture the humanity of its subjects. The result is a film bursting with life and laughter, and although tragedy lurks around every corner it isn’t over-sentimentalized or exploited, taking a backseat to the compassionate depiction of everyday moments. 

The audience is left to its own devices to pull together the extent to which these youth have been failed by a broken safety-net and the expired promise of an American dream. These ideas rise to the surface naturally and serve as a testament to the power of the documentary form when it’s loosened from the grip of mawkish narrators and sugary moralizing.

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