Every homeless person has a story — if only people will take the time to listen.
Frank Weiss and Scott Stagliano not only listened, they filmed residents of the Atlantic City Rescue Mission last year as part of an art project sponsored by the Noyes Museum of Art at Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township.
The resulting hourlong documentary, “Finding Home: A Film About (Those) People,” will be shown at the Noyes at a special screening Thursday linked to an exhibit of portraits of Rescue Mission clients painted by artist Seth Camm.
The project developed after Dorrie Papademetriou, director of exhibitions and collections at the Noyes, saw portraits Camm had done of homeless people in other areas.
“He is giving a face to the people, and that was something we wanted to do in Atlantic City,” Papademetriou said.
Stockton students have gone to the Rescue Mission to do photos and interviews, Papademetriou said, and the museum was able to get a grant from the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey to have Camm paint a series of portraits. Weiss, who had completed a previous documentary on a friend’s work in Belize, was asked to document the process on film.
Weiss, 26, of Seaville, and Stagliano, 26, of West Wildwood, met while attending Wildwood Catholic High School, where they shared a love of film. Stagliano graduated from Stockton in 2009. Weiss is a senior there and spent time as a photographer in the Air Force before starting college. Weiss said they jumped at the chance to do the film.
“My favorite genre is social commentary,” Weiss said.
Not all Rescue Mission residents jumped at the chance to be filmed, even some who were having their portraits painted.
“The hardest part was just asking them, and trying to film people who don’t want to be filmed,” Weiss said. “The most recently homeless are the most embarrassed. They are so vulnerable.”
“But others were eager to participate,” Stagliano said. “They wanted to tell their stories.”
Only first names are used in the film and the portraits. They include:
— John who was a track star in high school, attended college for engineering, enlisted to fight in the Korean War, then after his wife died, lost his house and became homeless.
— Macho, who was first exposed to drugs at age 5 and now struggles to kick his addiction so he can be worthy of a 2-year-old daughter he rarely sees.
— Derek, who still carries the military bearing from his time in the Army but later fell behind on his rent and became homeless.
— Daisy, who for the first time talked about her life since she began living on the streets at age 15. “I haven’t told anyone about all this since it happened,” she said.
Weiss said he wants the public to see how many people are just a job loss away from homelessness.
“Many of these people have had very hard lives,” he said. “Others had families and homes and something happens, medical bills or a death, and they lose it all.”
The film includes interviews about the homeless issue and efforts to address it both locally and nationally.
Tom Davidson, director of development at the Atlantic City Rescue Mission, said he is looking forward to seeing the finished film.
“It’s a great opportunity for people who may be interested in the topic but may be afraid to talk to the homeless,” he said. “It can help develop empathy and shine a light on what is actually happening in peoples’ lives and how it can be turned around.”
Papademetriou said she wanted to give the homeless a voice, and Weiss has done that admirably.
“At some point, these people are just numbers in a system,” Weiss said. “It comes down to seeing them as individuals who need help and support.”
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