Of course, there are probably many documentaries this author has not seen that implements this similar narrative structure, but it is intriguing to think that there is this certain style of structure employed that connects Anne de Mare and Kirsten Kelly’s “The Homestretch” and the documentaries of Steve James (“Hoop Dreams,” “The Interrupters,” and the most recent “Life Itself”). It’s this Chicagonian method documentary filmmaking that presents a certain issue and, instead of reserving screen time to forcefully find a solution, uses multiple stories to illuminate the monumental complexities facing the act of finding a solution to, in the case of this film, youth homelessness. From what it appeared on screen, there are general solution that offer superficial help but to completely eradicate such a terrible would involve a case-by-case investigation. The three stories we watch all are very different from each other.
Roque is a homeless youth because if father had trouble with immigration and had to leave Chicago; his mother left to marry someone else in less than a heartbeat. He now lives in the house of a generous professor at his school. Kasey doesn’t live with her mother and grandmother (it’s never clear why) but she lives in Belfort house as part of the teen living program. She is also a lesbian. Anthony recently joined the Belfort house and is looking to find a way to get a job so that he can take care of his child who lives in a foster home in Indiana. We follow the trajectory each takes as they all want to maintain an education to get them out of this perpetual void.
Intriguingly, and what makes this film so effective, is that the film’s ‘fourth’ character are the possible solutions: the generous teacher, the Belfort House, and another youth homeless shelter named The Crib. Particularly with the teacher and The Crib we see arcs from the beginning to the end of the film, realizing the hardships and determination that each face. The filmmakers, though, always refer to the unfortunate case that these are only temporary and isolated solutions. You get a sense that the issue here expands scathingly far beyond the films premise. And if that is a reason to remark on possible shortsightedness on the part of the filmmakers, it’s reasonable. Sometimes too much specificity in story and too much ambiguity in the complexities of the issue seems to dilute the act of raising awareness of homelessness.
Nevertheless, if you see this story at face-value, three kids trying to forge a path on fire and ice, “The Homestretch” is a film filled with immense power. There are many depressingly heavy moments, but there are certainly moments of tenderness and triumph that feel empowering. Again, it is the case-by-case observation of these issues that we can see the ambiguities that show themselves on a topic that can be easily generalized. Like its spiritual predecessor, “The Interrupters,” it gives us a glimpse of a life many of us can never really imagine.