Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Behind the Screen:
I'm Not Looking for Coins, I'm Looking for Change.

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the CSWE 2014 Virtual Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. Contact us to learn how you can see the films and vote for the Virtual Ovation Award. The award consists of a $500 prize and will be presented to the top-ranked film in the Virtual Film Festival, as determined by the audience.

Filmmaker A-Nam Nguyen (left) explains below the background to I'm Not Looking for Coins, I'm Looking for Change, the film on homelessness that she made with fellow Rutgers student Dominique Turner.

I was taking the class “Race Gender Nation” as part of my capstone requirement for the Institute for Women’s Leadership (IWL) program at Rutgers University. That class helped me to understand the concept of “othering,” where people would remove themselves from people who are different based upon their personal or societal criteria. This act serves as a form of oppression to the people being othered. I also was involved in a campus Christian group that would visit New York City to help the homeless people there. I realized that we did not recognize the needs of the homeless people in New Brunswick, NJ. I started to ask why student organizations always thought of providing services for places outside of their own community, when the local residents also needed a lot of help. That troubled me, and I set out to create a social action project on homelessness in New Brunswick as part of the IWL program.  
An opportunity to study filmmaking via a filmmaking learning community provided me with technical skills such as learning Final Cut Pro and operating a camera. I became acquainted with Dominique Turner when we were moved to another campus after Hurricane Sandy. Dominique told me that, due to our experience of relocation, she could relate to the idea of being homeless and feeling helpless in such situations. Her ability to see that homelessness could affect anyone led her to join me in my project to create a film about homelessness. 

Much groundwork had to be done before we could begin filming. I would go to the local soup kitchen at dinner time, where I would sit with strangers, talk to them about my project, and explain my interest for helping homeless people gain a voice in the community. Most people were more than willing to share their experiences, but nearly all of them did not want to be filmed. They had no objection to having their voices recorded on audio, but being on camera meant that they would be identified as homeless—not something they found acceptable. I often wondered if I would ever find the subject for my film. 

Dominique Turner films Jill Tice feeding cats for
I'm Not Looking for Coins, I'm Looking for Change
I also needed to do research on homelessness as well as connect with local professionals who worked with homeless individuals and experts on homelessness. I spoke with campus faculty and staff, personnel at a county nonprofit devoted to ending homelessness, staff at local shelters, and a pastor who had written a book on the subject. One of these individuals suggested establishing a speakers’ bureau on campus. As part of my social action project, I helped organize a panel in 2012 on homelessness, which was attended by 100 people. Jill Tice was one of two homeless persons on the panel. I asked her if she would consider becoming the subject of my documentary, and she said that she would be more than happy to help me.

In the subsequent weeks, Dominique and I arranged to meet with Jill in various places around New Brunswick. Fortunately, Jill had a cell phone so that I could call her to meet up. There were instances where Dominique and I would look for Jill, but could not find her. We also filmed some interviews with Jill at a local social service agency, after the program director gave us permission to do so.

Constructing the film was a challenging process. With the help of my professor from the filmmaking learning community, we outlined the film, considering how to meld Jill’s story with footage from the homeless panel to best effect. Dominique preferred to do most of the editing, whereas I served as producer and visionary of the project. In addition, Dominique and I had to juggle demanding work and school schedules, so we often were in the computer lab together late at night. Sometimes we had technical glitches with the equipment. As a team, we cooperated with each other’s weaknesses and strengths.

From the beginning, I had wanted to create a documentary film that would empower my subject to freely voice her opinion about the issues. I wanted viewers to forget what they learned about homelessness from the media and their impressions of what someone’s looks or social status convey. On the day that the film was screened, Jill and her homeless friends were there. With tears in her eyes, Jill talked about how much she appreciated being acknowledged and that people finally cared. Dominique and I were incredibly proud of our work.

The mission to help homeless people does not end here, however, and this documentary film has been promoted via multiple platforms. It also won honorable mention for the Margery Somers Foster Undergraduate Multimedia Award at Rutgers and was recognized by the IWL program. Dominique and I are grateful for the selection of I’m Not Looking for Coins, I’m Looking for Change as part of the CSWE 2014 Virtual Film Festival and for the opportunity to connect with other caring groups and individuals.  

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