I have been thinking about making a movie set in the homeless world, for some time.
When my father was stationed in Calcutta (building homes for the poor through the Ford Foundation) as a teenager, I saw true homelessness first hand.
My mother would go and try to help out in the slums, became friends with Mother Theresa, and our compound was surrounded by dozens of street dwellers families who lived off our refuse and scraps.
During the monsoons the whole city became flooded by several feet of water and all the sewage (there was no system, just open ditches) would float up and become a lake of everything you can imagine, which we had to wade through.
One of my father’s projects through the Ford Foundation was building thousands of prefabricated toilets structures across the city, with underground tanks, where the refuse would be absorbed underground.
What we see in cities across America, is getting more and more like what I witnessed, especially when climate change comes into effect and there are storms and floods – and the homeless issue and poverty is getting worse and worse, especially on the west coast, where climate is more forgiving.
It is also getting compounded by drugs which are more potent today than before, and there are issues of mental disease, displaced vets of wars like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, broken families, runaway kids, sex tracing, and whole families living in homeless enclaves, by rivers, and the streets.
I have already made a few movies that touched on the subject lightly – Hey Babe was about a homeless squatter played by Buddy Hackett, Jailbait was about a teenage girl who is being lured into street prostitution and is saved by a cop, Downtown:a street tale about a group of homeless kids/squatters in NYC, and my last film Tiger Within, about a teen who finds herself in the streets and in taken in by Holocaust survivor, played by Ed Asner, who sees a lot of himself and his family in her.
TIGER WITHIN is currently playing in selected theaters across the US, and is getting great reviews.
Here is the latest review and an in-depth interview about myself and my film-making journey:
In my films, I dove into the subject of the homeless issue indirectly, never the focus of the story.
For the last few years I started thinking about making the Jesus story set in today’s homeless setting, and trying to imagine how the story would play itself out today, in parallel how it played two thousand years ago.
There are a lot of connections between the two settings and times, and in a way little has changed, human nature remains the same.
It was Friday, September 1st, 2023, and I did something that I rarely do. I decided to take the day off and go to the beach and spend the day reading and visualizing my script BARDO THODOL, my next film I hope to do.
Then a series of incidents occurred that felt auspicious.
I stopped at the Malibu colony supermarket and there was a man promoting a Tequila cooler drink, a new brand that he was the CEO of. He was so generous that he insisted I try all 5 flavors, which he poured generous samples of, and he got me quite tipsy. The drinks were so tasty and potent that I purchased two and took them to the beach.
Tequila has a bit of a hallucinatory effect, and reading my script which is an immersive stream-of-consciousness type of story based on the Bardo journey we take when we die and are reborn, made the movie to be so real, as if I was actually watching it completed in an IMAX cinema.
As I was reading the script there was a young couple lying on the sand, they were both over 250 pounds each and were passed out like two beached whales, drunk or stoned out of their minds. They fell like two characters in my script, because the story deals with a couple in love that meet in many lifetimes, as well as in the after death realm.
Next I stopped for at Bui Sushi. It was full moon and an Amusement Park had been set up on the nearby field, part of the annual Chili Cook Off Festival.
It made me think of a movie I once tried to make in Montreal, that had been stolen from under my feet during pre-production and unjustly handed over to another director. It was one of the most bitter experiences of my life and one I can’t still get over.
I had recently visited Santa Cruz, California and discovered the beautiful amusement park on the beach and had started contemplating the movie I never got to make, reconfigured in a different way – UNDER BOARDWALK.
At the bar counter, a man sat down in the adjacent seat and we started talking. One of the patrons introduced him as a writer, and I asked whether he had written any movies. He said yes, and it had been stolen from him.
It immediately created a connection, and a bond between us, as we had both been victims of an artistic rape-theft which troubles us deeply, even now – he could not help to stop to talk about it.
I asked if he had any new projects, and he talked about redoing a Clint Eastwood movie, in Santa Cruz. I expressed my concern how the media landscape had been over saturated and it was so difficult to come up with any fresh idea that would stand apart from the pack. Then he started talking about Santa Cruz, were he had come from and spend many years, the amusement park and particularly the homeless crisis that had hit the city hard.
Here is an article he wrote about the San Lorenzo River, that flows behind the park, and the homeless population that lives on the riverbanks.
His name Benjamin Marcus, and it turns out he is a great non-fiction writer, with a large body of work on his website.
I asked him about his method of writing and he said sometimes he gets so inspired that like Mozart in AMADEUS, when inspiration would hit, he could not write the notes down fast enough.
It was another sign, as if from above, because in fact AMADEUS is my favorite film of all time, and I often use “Amadeus” as my password challenge question-answer, prompted by what is my favorite move.
I left to the bathroom, and as I was sitting on the toilet seat, it hit me – there were too many signs. I had to take the chance and tell him my idea of recreating the Jesus story, set in the homeless world, and possibly in Santa Cruz.
It was a leap of faith – would it become another idea that would get stolen?
He immediately responded, seemed to love it, perked up, and several people in at the bar overheard what I was telling him, an immediately said “that’s a great idea!”
It was the final sign.
I hope it will be one of my next movies, and divine inspiration seems to have hit – Benjamin is furiously writing the screenplay, just a few hours after our encounter, and new pages are flying in by the second, and really good stuff. Much better than I expected.
I feel this project has divine inspiration, blessings and a story that needs to be told right now, the world is crying for it, and that has the potential to stand apart from the pack.
It’s a possible star vehicle, multiple funding options and a huge potential audience, not only a Christian one but a wide-ranging global audience.
What are the main themes of this project, Jesus’ main teachings – I had to google the question, and this showed up:
- Love Your Neighbor As Yourself.
- Love Your Enemies. …
- Forgive Others. …
- Serve Others. …
- Have Faith.