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INDIEWATCH: Filmmaker gets new perspective on homelessness

Documentary "I Am Another You" follows Dylan Olson, a man in his early 20s who has chosen to live on the streets. imdb.com

Filmmaker Nanfu Wang spent almost a month eating from trash cans and living on the streets in documentary "I Am Another You," where she follows Dylan, a charismatic, homeless man.

Through her travels with Dylan and in interviews with his family, Wang is honest and daring.

Some documentarians include themselves on camera; some opt to focus on their subjects. Here, Wang's voice is a key narrative element.

Her perspective paints Dylan's circumstances as she experienced them. He's a well-spoken, good-looking young man. "I don't know what day it is. Every day is right now. Every time is right now," he says, as the two set out from a Florida hostel.

Dylan's freedom from care feels foreign, attractive even. Wang overlays his poetry with footage of him walking barefoot, jovially interacting with everyone he meets. Then, she effectively communicates disillusionment by cutting from Dylan wandering the beach at night to him waking up lying on newspapers in the light of day.

It's unclear if Dylan's positive conversations with others are because of her camera. Wang openly wonders the same, and films from the sidelines.

From there she shoots other homeless people, their sleeping faces on concrete or leaned against buildings. She compares Dylan's brand of homelessness to that of the majority.

Soon, her camera traces others aboard a bus. They're aged; some are missing teeth. Her camera finally lands on Dylan, with dirty blonde curls, smiling with all his teeth. "I began to realize the privilege of choosing to be on the streets, which includes both of us," she said.

As this film traces Dylan over three years, from Florida to Utah, it's just as much about how Wang's interaction with him changed her as it is about Dylan's choice for the streets.

She's an exciting filmmaker to watch, mixing tough subjects with simplistically interesting footage. She also uses low-intensity effects and editing to communicate frenzy in blurry, distorted frames, backyard-flying birds and psychedelic time lapse sequences.

Wang is an intuitive narrator, and you can't help but like her. She doesn't mince words. Even if it doesn't paint her favorably, she shares her struggles with some of Dylan's choices on the streets. She bares her humanity as she asks that of her sources.

After trespassing into a park to sleep, she shows blurry footage of police lights with audio of her trying to rouse Dylan from a drunken slumber. The first time we see her full face is after that night; she's sitting on a bench, her hair oily, her face despondent.

It's a raw look at a timely topic, as homeless numbers are well over a half-million in the U.S. Wang doesn't offer a solution other than her own revelatory change of perspective.

Grade: A

"I Am Another You"

Starring: Dylan Olsen, Nanfu Wang

Director: Nanfu Wang

Time: 1:21

Rating: NR (some language, references to drug use)

Available: Amazon Instant, Google Play, iTunes, VUDU

More info: www.iamanotheryoufilm.com

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

(218) 723-5346
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