About this time last year, I attended the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness in Washington, D.C. Our keynote speaker at one luncheon was not a policy wonk or politician, but the actor Richard Gere. Gere had just completed a very personal film project and was there to share it with us. The film, “Time Out Of Mind,” explores in a very intimate, unique way what it might be like to be homeless.
Gere told us how the film was made. He described it as “stealth filmmaking.” Rather than set up trailers, cameras, and crew that signal a film is being made in a public space, filmmakers shot from within buildings or adjacent rooms, so that life went on uninterrupted as the actors went about their scenes while in the daily chaos that is the streets of New York City.
This very recognizable, well-regarded actor told us about a full day he spent filming in the same neighborhood where he lives, dressed in the well-worn clothing of a homeless man but without makeup or hair alterations. Still photos from that day showed us a man we could all recognize as Richard Gere. He stood outside the Starbucks he frequents often in his regular life, panhandling, with a film crew in a building across the street, out of sight to passers-by.
No one – not one person – recognized Richard Gere that entire day.
I’ll never forget the insight Richard Gere took away from that experience. He said it would be easy to come to the conclusion that homelessness is invisible. But no, he said – he was clearly not invisible. People did notice him. They just didn’t really look. Homelessness, Gere said, is more like a black hole. We are afraid to get too close. Wary about what it might mean. We don’t want to be sucked in. We worry that letting that happen would wound us too deeply.
And yet “Time Out Of Mind” demands that we look. It invites us to the experience. It handles us gently so that seeing the film doesn’t wound us, but opens us. We see more clearly the lived, felt experience of our homeless neighbors.
Friendship Shelter is pleased to host a viewing of the film later this month, and especially proud that Gere’s co-star, legendary actor Ben Vereen, will join us for a discussion and VIP reception following. I hope you’ll plan to join us. It promises to be a rare opportunity to consider, together, the impact homelessness has on the most vulnerable among us. Together, let’s look in to this “black hole” and come away transformed.