Without a Home: Screening and Q&A with Rachel Fleischer
December 15, 2013
by Xiaoyang Qiuan
Rachel Fleischer, the director of the widely-acclaimed documentary Without a Home, visited Claremont McKenna on Tuesday, November 19 to share her experiences with the audience following a screening of her film in the Freeburg Forum. The event, hosted by the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), was part of the National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, which took place from November 16 to November 24. Fleischer's film portrays a wide array of peoples’ lives that are connected by their shared identity of being homeless. They do not always live on the street; Aric, a compulsive collector and brilliant bluegrass musician, lived in his van for almost 25 years. The family of Tracey and Flor live in a motel that charges $50 per week. Yet they all suffer from similar wounds brought on by the hardships of life. After Aric’s van was confiscated by the state government, “the house that he lives in” (instead of “his house”—Aric is very careful with his choice of words) was burnt down and his Banjo and collections destroyed. “My life is all in shattered pieces now,” Aric said in the film. Tracey struggled to pay the rent and was almost kicked out of the motel. Tina, who suffers from schizophrenia, turned to Fleischer for help because she was ignored by her social worker and couldn’t get her medicine.
Overall, Fleischer depicts the complex lives of the homeless people she profiles and their resulting deep psychological wounds. "Homeless" begins to seem like less of a tag for people without permanent housing, and more of a concrete mark of their struggles. The film is able to open the audience’s eyes to a world that most either truly neglect or choose to ignore.
During the Q&A session after the screening, Fleischer introduced the film’s background. After graduating from the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, she first lived in New York for a year before she came back to Los Angeles to work. Throughout her life, Fleischer said, she always felt a strong connection to the homeless. “Disturbed, also fascinated and intrigued by the issue, I bought a camera, drove around LA and just talked to the homeless people,” she said. Working a full-time job, Fleischer spent almost five years shooting and another year and a half editing the film.
When asked what she thinks society should do to increase awareness about this issue and improve the lives of the homeless, Fleischer stressed the importance of simple interaction and respect. “It’s easy to think they are different from us, when they’re not. One thing I’m trying to show in the film is that they also have their stories and lives. Start by having some simple interaction that we take for granted—you have no idea how much this can mean to them,” she explained.
Fleischer also mentioned the need for economic and political efforts, adding that "their lives are not going to improve much until some concrete efforts are done.” Fleischer herself has been continually working on the issue, including launching a digital campaign called “What Can I Do?” to raise social awareness and compassion through works of art.
Anoush Baghdassarian ’17, who is interested in both theater arts and human rights advocacy, told the Forum that she found the movie and Fleischer’s talk to be inspirational. “It’s amazing how she pursued her dream right after college to fight for the homeless people," she said. "Most of us don’t have the courage to do that.”
Elena Lopez ’15, the coordinator for the event, told the Forum why the CCE brought the film and Fleischer to CMC in the first place. “She’s just like most of us—graduated from a top school and had a loving family. It would be an eye-opening experience for the student body [to interact with her], especially since we live in this relatively perfect Claremont bubble.”
Fleischer said that she continues to keep up with the lives of the homeless people and give them help whenever she can.