Homeless Ashes – Raindance Film Festival 2019 – Film Review
Homeless Ashes is a film whose progress I have been following for many years. From supporting its pre and post production crowdfunding campaigns to watching the early stages of its trailer, I have been keen to watch the finished product. It was therefore very pleasing to learn that Homeless Ashes’ efforts were being rewarded through its selection to appear at the Raindance Film Festival for its UK Première.
Homeless Ashes provides that voice to the homeless whom its tagline references as being ‘homeless not invisible.’ Indeed, director and actor Marc Zammit spent time one Christmas volunteering with charities such as Crisis assisting the homeless in order to identify with the role of Frankie. Such insights are evident in his impressive, nuanced portrayal of Frankie.
Frankie will be representative of many teenagers who leave home to escape an unbearable situation and so hopefully this film will provide some hope particularly as we approach World Homeless Day on 10 October.
Frankie’s story is told through a series of flashbacks with the strikingly glorious cinematography and evocative scores with cellos, as a non-diegetic sound, setting an emotional tone from the outset.
We are introduced to a young Frankie, with an impressive debut performance by Hector Bateman-Harden, against an aesthetically pleasing sepia tinted panoroma by the coast and docks. It is during these initial scenes that different social class strata are also touched upon as Frankie befriends Nicole, whose father owns a yacht.
Whilst being beautifully shot, Homeless Ashes does not evade highlighting the perils and treacherous nature of life on the streets much to Marc Zammit’s credit. The film is uncompromising in its delivery of scenes of domestic abuse, violence, child exploitation, drug abuse and many other hardships.
Despite such hard hitting topics there are still many humorous moments as Frankie finds himself immersed in a caring community of others affected by homelessness. The effective use of close ups during those scenes within this community forces the audience to become more immersed in the plights of the characters living on the streets.
Elliptical in structure, the film leaps forward 10 years and Frankie as an adult, played by Marc Zammit, is still living on the streets. Frankie had been forewarned that it is a ‘dog eat dog world’ out there but such harsh realities, as his possessions are stolen, do not alter the level of kindness that he extends to others even those that have previously wronged him. The film therefore offers a unique perspective in this regard providing insights to the different scenarios that resulted in being homeless without being entirely bleak.
We are told the stories of those who had become bankrupt and those like Frankie who similarly suffered a family trauma before becoming homeless. The authentic filming approach of Homeless Ashes means that as the audience we may find ourselves uncomfortably posing the question as to how close we could be to suffering from homelessness. Equally, the treatment of veterans is explored, with one character falling homeless after serving in the forces but is subsequently subjected to derision from passersby.
Fortunately for Frankie, there are friendships forged along the way with a fairground hot dog stand owner Gavin, played by Jason Flemyng, who acts as a father figure gently providing Frankie with food as a young boy in exchange of errands within his van. As an adult, Frankie forged a friendship with the charming American, Chico, to whom Nicole is introduced after she bumps into Frankie. However, being aware of the plight of Frankie and the others within the community compared to her own affluent situation, she does fear the risk of ‘exploiting’ them.
It is revealed in a particularly heart wrenching scene that Chico had previously encountered Frankie, as a young boy, in a drugs den in a precarious position unbeknownst to Frankie. The poignancy of such scene is so strong that I was certainly glad that the tissues were nearby!
Chico’s own backstory is equally harrowing and serves as a reminder to ourselves of the fragility of life, the importance of relationships and the impact of grief on our mental state. Indeed to paraphrase Chico, everyone has their own story to tell of the catalyst leading to their life on the streets.
There are plenty of stunning, aerial shots of beaches, wind turbines at sunset and the natural beauty which emphasise life’s contrasts given the sombre nature of the film’s subject. The cinematography and direction truly excel in this regard! I particularly enjoyed the beauty of a scene where a professional dancer teaches Frankie, played by Marc Zammit at this stage, a few dance steps at night by an unrecognisable but beautifully shot section of the river Thames. The camera follows the fluidity of the dance movements and it is simply mesmerisingly poetic.
Equally, the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds of a saxophone playing, whilst Frankie’s community of friends dance, are hypnotic and the joyousness of such scene is a captivating watch. The camera swirls and lingers around the characters as they dance and so we are invited to revel in the joy of the moment too.
Despite the ordeals endured by Frankie, his scenario perhaps differs to the plight of others as he still has a family home that he could return to, albeit with the potential for serious ramifications, after an 11 year absence.
A discourse between Frankie and another character within his new family serves to remind us that we are all culpable of walking past the homeless on the streets as though they are invisible. Homeless Ashes certainly succeeds in delivering this message effectively by giving a powerful narrative to those that find themselves in such a predicament. It is a very impressive directorial debut and I will certainly look forward to Marc’s next project.
During the question and answer session at the Raindance Film Festival, Marc revealed that a portion of the profits from Homeless Ashes will be donated to homeless charities, which is a very admirable gesture.
Homeless Ashes is currently featuring within festivals in the United States and so I truly hope that such a beautiful, rewarding film will be picked up by a UK distributor shortly.